The Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) recently ruled that national cabinet was not a sub-committee of the federal government.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison had used the argument to defeat the efforts of independent senator Rex Patrick to gain access to national cabinet deliberations. The federal government has now tabled legislation aimed at thwarting the AAT’s ruling, prompting Patrick to call Morrison a “sore loser”:
The first-of-its-kind case in the AAT was brought by the Senate crossbencher Rex Patrick, who argued the prime minister had no valid grounds to extend cabinet confidentiality to his regular national cabinet meetings with premiers and chief ministers.
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Patrick’s argument was ultimately upheld in the tribunal ruling. Justice Richard White said none of the documents sought by Patrick under the freedom of information system were an “official record of a committee of cabinet” and were, therefore, not covered by the cabinet exemption.
The bill introduced on Thursday was intended to make clear that where commonwealth legislation makes provisions to protect the secrecy of federal cabinet deliberations, those same protections extend to the “committee of cabinet known as the national cabinet”.
Patrick blasted the move… “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”…
Isabelle Reinecke, the executive director of Grata Fund, said the bill was “a blatant attempt by the prime minister to undermine the rule of law so that he can continue to manage the national Covid-19 response without any public accountability”.
“If this legislation passes, then the prime minister will be able to hide advice from fossil fuel executives including those advising on issues such as the so-called ‘gas led’ recovery, the national quarantine system and the rollout of vaccines to at risk groups like First Nations communities, people in aged care and people living with disability,” she told Guardian Australia…
Bill Browne, a senior researcher at the Australia Institute’s democracy and accountability program, told Guardian Australia the bill would “extend a pall of secrecy over national cabinet”.
“Worryingly, it does this despite doing nothing to address the root problems identified in Rex Patrick’s case.
Secrecy is the Morrison Government’s modus operandi, since it covers up policy errors and waste and makes it easier to mislead the public with spin.
I’ll admit that I liked the idea of national cabinet when it was announced. However, as the old saying goes, “when everyone’s in charge, nobody’s in charge”.
Prime Minister ‘Scotty from Marketing’ has clearly used national cabinet as an excuse to shirk the federal government’s constitutional responsibilities for quarantine and the vaccine rollout, among other things.
National cabinet has been opportunistically used by the federal government to ‘pass the buck’ to the states when we instead needed it to roll its sleeves up, lead and get the job done.
A simple axiom in business is that one person – the leader – the CEO – is the front person who speaks for the organisation, in this case Australia. It is Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s lack of leadership and accountability that is the main problem.