Royal Commissions – Not a fad, but a path to real change

06 November 2019

The recent ramping up of the number of Royal Commissions in Australia is striking. This is not a fad. The health industry must prepare for the coming real change by monitoring the current Commissions closely and taking proactive steps now.

The rising number of Royal Commissions

It took about five months for former Commissioner of the Banking Royal Commission, and former High Court Justice, Kenneth Hayne, to make his first public remarks since delivering his final report in February 2019.

With the directness and clarity that Justice Hayne became famous for throughout the Commission, he made this statement to a room full of Constitutional Law experts at the CCCS Conference at Melbourne Law School on 26 July 2019:

“The increasingly frequent calls for Royal Commissions in this country cannot, and should not, be dismissed as some passing fad or fashion.”

The fact is we have four Royal Commissions going on currently – one relating to aged care services, one relating to people with disability, one relating to the mental health system, and one relating to the management of police informants (aka the one about Lawyer X). Relevantly, three of them are of direct interest to the readers of this Health bulletin.

These follow not too long ago Royal Commissions into misconduct in the banking, superannuation and financial services industry, the Murray-Darling Basin system, juvenile correction facilities, trade union corruption, the home insulation program, and institutional responses to child sexual abuse (in rough reverse chronological order).

Healthcare providers must act now

Justice Hayne implored his audience to recognise that Royal Commissions are not a passing fad or fashion – but something more ever-lasting. The Commissions can therefore be approached with much more optimism in terms of the real impact they will have on an industry moving forward.

What this could mean for the Aged Care and Disability Royal Commissions is that the findings of these Commissions will more closely reflect future ‘laws’ than their predecessors. We saw the Treasurer very quickly support all 76 recommendations of Commissioner Hayne’s final report in the Banking Royal Commission.

We have since seen the Government announce an “implementation road map” in relation to the 54 recommendations directed to the Government, plus some extras initiated by the Government. The timetable will see 90% of the recommendations implemented by mid-2020.

Accordingly, when Commissioner Pagone hands down the final report in November 2020 for the Aged Care Royal Commission and Commissioner Sackville in April 2022 for the Disability Royal Commission, we can read the reports with an expectation that ‘real change’ will occur in the industry relatively quickly.

Commissioner Sackville promised just that at the first public sitting of the Disability Royal Commission on 16 September 2019:

“People want and expect real change. … With the active participation of people with disability and the disability community at large, the Royal Commission provides an opportunity to achieve transformational change. It is a very large challenge, but it is one that should be embraced.”

It is therefore the responsibility of healthcare providers to follow these Royal Commissions very closely and start taking active steps now, at both the managerial and board level, that reflect the messages the Commissions are sending out. Whether it be changing practices to support better culture, reporting of incidents, provision of services, engagement with clients and family, understanding diversity of need, or support for staff.

Waiting for the final reports may be too late, particularly in an environment where we know that the Government will likely immediately act on the findings of the Royal Commissions in order to address the public’s demand for action.

Conclusion

While public hearings of Royal Commissions have for some time been very good at exposing serious problems within an industry, the reports that follow will now more than ever likely lead to real change in the near future.

We will therefore continue to monitor both the Aged Care and Disability Royal Commissions and provide in due course our thoughts on what real change can be expected in the health industry.

This article was written by Jason Symons, Partner.

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