The word ‘independent’ has been part of the English language since 1612. So how can anyone be confused about its meaning 419 years later? But some are. The most muddled are those calling for an ‘independent’ inquiry into historic rape allegations against Christian Porter. They know, as we all do, that the NSW police began an investigation—not an easy task, thirty years later —but after being asked by the alleged victim (shortly before her suicide) not to proceed, then decided that was the end of the matter. The NSW Police Commissioner said the allegation ‘probably’ would not have made it to court even if she was still alive. The linguistic question has to be: in what sense is the NSW police not ‘independent’? In South Australia there may be a coronial inquiry into the woman’s death. In what sense is the SA coroner not ‘independent’? The combined expression ‘independent inquiry’ is recorded from around 1900 and means an inquiry ‘unaffected by others’ (OED). When the Greens, Labor and sections of the media demand an ‘independent inquiry’ what allegations are they making about the NSW police or the SA coroner? Or are they just hoping, once again, that no one will notice their slippery use of language?
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