The cabinet, comprised of the PM, state premiers and territory leaders, was formed in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The government claims that body’s decisions should be afforded the same protections from disclosure requests as the federal cabinet.
The issue came to the fore when the government refused a Freedom of Information (FOI) application by South Australian Independent Senator Rex Patrick relating to a May 2020 National Cabinet meeting, arguing they were “an official record of the cabinet.”
An Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) ruled against the government last month, but top government officials continue to insist that the National Cabinet is a committee of the federal ministerial cabinet and not subject to FOI requests.
Earlier this month, the government proposed legislation that would extend secrecy protections in the FOI Act to all National Cabinet minutes and meetings, saying “confidentiality of information and decision-making” is “critical” to its functioning.
“The prime minister is clearly absolutely addicted to secrecy and what he did was quite disrespectful to the conventions, the longstanding conventions of responsible government in Australia,” Patrick told the Guardian.
New South Wales Senator Tim Ayres also questioned why the Senate would be “persuaded by a set of arguments” that had already been “rejected entirely” by the AAT.