The Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) recently ruled that national cabinet was not a sub-committee of the federal government. This meant that its deliberations could be subjected to Freedom of Information (FoI) requests.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison had previously used the ‘sub-committee of the federal government’ argument to defeat the efforts of independent senator Rex Patrick to gain access to national cabinet deliberations.
Following the AAT’s ruling, the federal government tabled legislation to thwart the AAT’s ruling, provoking outrage from Patrick:
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“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”.
Governance experts also expressed concern that the new legislation would erode transparency:
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.
Now Rex Patrick has launched a counter-challenge by establishing a Senate inquiry to probe the ‘cloak of secrecy’ over national cabinet:
“This is typical of Scott Morrison,” Senator Patrick said.
“He’s obsessed with secrecy. He was caught acting outside the law. Now he wants to change the law”…
“The Prime Minister has been unable to introduce a ICAC bill in the two years of this Parliament, but can introduce an oversight obstruction bill in just 28 days,” Senator Patrick said.
“Intergovernmental meetings have always been subject to FOI with a harm threshold and an appropriate public interest test. Mr Morrison is seeking to change that and impose a complete ban on scrutiny.
“There’s no justification for doing so and to do so would erode participation by everyday people in the governing of our federation”…
Senator Patrick said he plans to introduce amendments to the COAG bill that would remove the provisions relating to protection from disclosure of national cabinet.
He is calling on Labor and the cross bench to support his amendments in the Senate, a move that would effectively scupper the government’s plan.
“The Prime Minister’s new secrecy legislation would prevent any external scrutiny of intergovernmental decision making in the ‘national cabinet’ and ensure that the records of those meetings are confined to the vaults of the National Archives for at least 20 years,” Senator Patrick said.
“This is quite unacceptable. Over the past 18 months the Prime Minister’s ‘national cabinet’ has made decisions that have affected every Australian and cost taxpayers billions of dollars.”
“Australians deserve to know how and why those decisions were made. Transparency is vital for democratic accountability.”
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 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 Morrison to ‘pass the buck’ to the states when we instead needed him to lead, roll up his sleeves, 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.