2 September 2021
Independent Senator Rex Patrick today condemned the Morrison Government’s presentation of a new Bill to Parliament which seeks to overturn Federal Court Justice White’s judgment that ‘National Cabinet’ is not a real Cabinet and that its deliberations should be open to Freedom of Information scrutiny.
Senator Patrick said: “Scott Morrison is clearly a sore loser, but more importantly he’s still trying to stifle public scrutiny of ‘National Cabinet’ decision making as well as many other dealings of Federal, state and territory governments.”
“The COAG Legislation Amendment Bill 2021 introduced into Parliament today seeks to exempt the body known as ‘National Cabinet’ and committees of that body from the disclosure provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 1982.”
“The Bill further provides for the issuing of conclusive certificates by Ministers to prevent the disclosure of ‘National Cabinet’ records in Administrative Appeals Tribunal hearings and to keep records of ‘National Cabinet’ secret in the deepest and darkest vaults of the National Archives.”
“Numerous other laws are to be amended to ensure the secrecy of National Cabinet in all circumstances.”
Last month, in a landmark decision arising from a FOI application by Senator Patrick, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal determined that the Prime Minister’s claim that National Cabinet is a Committee of the Federal Cabinet was wrong in law and unsupported by fact.
The Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Philip Gaetjens, and the head of the Cabinet Division of that Department, Leonie McGregor, presented arguments and evidence that were not accepted by the Tribunal as correct or factual.
“Having acted outside and contrary to the law with regard to National Cabinet secrecy, the Prime Minister now wants to change the law,” Senator Patrick said.
“He’s a sore loser who does not accept long-established conventions of Cabinet responsibility and democratic accountability. He hates scrutiny and is allergic to transparency.”
“These sorts of secrecy provisions were never required for the former Council of Australian Governments."
“If the Prime Minister’s proposed amendments are accepted by the Senate, and the legislation passes through the Parliament, it will not only shroud Federal-State relations in an impenetrable cloud of secrecy, it will also radically undermine responsible Cabinet Government within the Federation.”
“Key decisions will be able to be taken in complete secrecy without those involved – the Prime Minister, Premiers and Chief Ministers – being properly accountable to their respective Parliaments.”
“But first this proposed law would have to pass the Senate. The other big question is who among the non-government parties and independents in the Senate will stand up against this direct assault on government transparency by the Morrison Government?"
“I will be standing up in support of transparency and democratic accountability. We’ll have to see where the Labor Opposition and One Nation stand.”
Justice White’s Administrative Appeals Tribunal decision of 5 August 2021 can be found here.
Details of the COAG Legislation Amendment Bill 2021 can be found here.