3 September 2021
Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s department will not appeal Independent Senator Rex Patrick’s Freedom of Information victory, securing the release of records of the ‘National Cabinet’.
“Scott Morrison’s secrets vault has been opened,” Senator Patrick declared.
“We won’t have to wait twenty or thirty years to learn just what and how key government decisions were made through the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“Counsel for the Commonwealth Government advised me last night that they will not appeal Federal Court Justice Richard White’s judgement that the Prime Minister’s ‘National Cabinet’ is not a real Cabinet and that its minutes and decisions are not exempt from public access under the Freedom of Information Act 1982."
“This is a big win for transparency and accountability. Justice White’s landmark decision affirms long-established principles of responsible Cabinet Government and makes it clear that the Prime Minister is not free to arrogantly make stuff up as he goes along.”
“My FOI applications were designed as a test case to challenge the absolute secrecy imposed by the Prime Minister on all National Cabinet deliberations including the supply of briefings and advice from government bodies such as the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee and National COVID-19 Coordination Commission."
Senator Patrick initially sought ‘all meeting notes/minutes taken from the meeting of the National Cabinet on 29 May 2020’. The minutes of that meeting can be found here.
Senator Patrick also requested documents that outlined or described the rules that the National Cabinet is bound by. That information was contained in the minutes of National Cabinet on 15 March 2020 which can be found here. The document is partially redacted because some information was outside the scope of the information he sought in his FOI application.
Senator Patrick said: “The most important thing is that the wall of Cabinet secrecy has been breached. The way is now clear to extract much more information on top level government decision making over the past eighteen months. I’ve already made a new FOI applications for access to records of some 50 National Cabinet meetings.” This FOI application can be found here.
"These new records will serve as an index to other important documents that will shed light on Australia’s pandemic response and other matters of national importance.”
Senator Patrick said: “It is perhaps no surprise that yesterday the Government rushed into Parliament a Bill designed to prevent any further release of National Cabinet information.”
“This is typical of Prime Minister Morrison. He is obsessed with secrecy. He was caught acting outside the law. Now he wants to change the law."
"There's a particularly offensive provision in the new laws the seeks to have the Prime Minister benefit even more than he already does from the blockages in the FOI system caused by overzealous Departmental exemption claims and a significantly under-resourced Information Commissioner's office."
"The new Bill attempts to wrap secrecy around 'a request that was made, but not finally determined' before the proposed laws come into effect. Because of delays in challenging FOI claims, currently more than 2 years, if the laws were passed all current requests would likely be captured with applicants being denied existing rights."
"It's a particularly wicked and furtive approach by our Prime Minister," said Senator Patrick.
“However, the doors to his unlawful ‘National Cabinet’ secrecy vault are open and they will remain open provided the Senate resists the Prime Minister’s new secrecy Bill.”
"The Senate should recognise what's happening here. Intergovernmental meetings have always been subject to FOI. Mr Morrison is seeking to change that. There's no justification for doing so and to do so would erode participation by everyday people in the governing of our Federation."