Antinuclear

Australian news, and some related international items

Senator Rex Patrick challenges Scott Morrison’s special arrangement to protect his government from public scrutiny

Senator challenges cabinet secrecy,  The Saturday Paper 33 May 21,  Scott Morrison is using a special arrangement to keep the workings of his government secret, but independent senator Rex Patrick has launched a challenge to its legality. By Karen Middleton  Karen Middleton is The Saturday Paper’s chief political correspondent.

A special policy committee the prime minister uses to keep the workings of his government secret is being called into legal question as part of a challenge to the confidential status of national cabinet.

Independent senator Rex Patrick launched the challenge after the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet refused two freedom of information requests for access to national cabinet documents.

Appearing before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) this week, the Commonwealth argued that national cabinet’s workings must be secret because it is an offshoot of federal cabinet, which is governed by a confidentiality convention.

It argued that deciding how cabinet committees are formed and who joins them is in the prime minister’s “gift” alone.

The national cabinet arrangement relies on the controversial cabinet office policy committee that Morrison created upon becoming prime minister. He is its only permanent member. The one-man construct allows the prime minister to declare almost any gathering he attends to be a cabinet committee meeting, protecting it from public scrutiny.

When the tribunal’s Justice Richard White queried the mechanism purporting to give national cabinet confidential status, the government could provide no information.

“Is there anything else that tells me anything about the cabinet office policy committee?” Justice White asked counsel for the Commonwealth, Andrew Berger, QC, on Wednesday. “I’m not sure there is, Your Honour,” Berger replied.

Last year, Labor’s senate leader, Penny Wong, condemned the one-man committee as “an abuse” of process used to “cover up blatant political decision-making”.

Senator Patrick’s AAT challenge could also have implications for accessing information from other designated cabinet subcommittees and groups advising them.

The one-man construct allows the prime minister to declare almost any gathering he attends to be a cabinet committee meeting, protecting it from public scrutiny…………..

…………………………. After the hearing, Rex Patrick described national cabinet as “a last-minute idea dealt with at short notice, without its implementation or consequences being properly considered”.

“That’s apparent when looking back at the various media statements, the cobbling together of a new cabinet handbook and the evidence before the AAT,” he told The Saturday Paper.

Patrick said the legislated right to access information on intergovernmental communication had existed in Australia for almost 40 years, “subject only to a test of public harm”.

“Last year, Prime Minister Morrison took that right away,” he said. “He did not ask the parliament to change the law.”

Patrick said he was in a fight for transparency and responsible government. “And I’m in a fight to stop a prime minister unilaterally taking away a right that was given to me and all Australians, by the parliament.”

Whether Justice White agrees will be clear soon. He reserved his judgement and promised a quick decision.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 22, 2021 as “Cabinet of one”. https://www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/news/politics/2021/05/22/senator-challenges-cabinet-secrecy/162160560011709

May 22, 2021 - Posted by | - incidents, AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, legal, politics

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