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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1996 Week 2 Hansard (29 February) . . Page.. 452 ..

Report on Access to Cabinet and other Deliberative Documents

Debate resumed from 21 November 1995, on motion by Ms Follett:

That the report be noted.

MR HUMPHRIES (Attorney-General) (10.37): I do not intend to speak for very long on this matter. I believe that the Government's response on this matter has now been tabled and it is clear what the Government's view is about the recommendations. I have not brought down with me a copy of the recommendations or the comments; but, as I recall, the Government has substantially accepted the recommendations contained in the report with, as I recall, some variation on that.

Mr Speaker, I accept that there is a need for us to be careful about the use of documents generated by previous governments. I want to emphasise my view that it is not possible to hermetically seal the decisions and decision-making documentation of previous governments on a change of government. Clearly, public services continue when governments come and go, and it is important that the paperwork being generated on issues, the documentation being generated in that process, be capable of being continually used throughout the period when different governments are in power in order that there be a continuation of a corporate knowledge, so to speak, in the government service.

Clearly, the documents that governments themselves closely use are another matter. Certainly, documents produced for and used by Cabinets are in a different classification. They are documents which, in a sense, are at a different level and ought, I think, to be properly protected from the scrutiny of succeeding governments; but, as for documentation at a lower level, certainly the lower the level of documentation that is produced the more the case for there to be openness as far as those documents are concerned.

Mr Speaker, I suspect that we have some way to go before we sort out a modus operandi which will endure on this question. I have already commented upon the issue which gave rise to this reference and will not come back to it, but I do believe firmly that it is important that the work of government not be impeded by some kind of wholesale walling off of documentation produced during the period of a government when that government loses office, because that would simply result in it being impossible for governments to continue to do their work with the Public Service serving them throughout the period of different governments.

I accept the requirement to update the Cabinet Handbook in a number of key respects and I believe that that will flow from the recommendations of this committee. I think that the involvement of a former government, or the Ministers of a former government, is also important and appropriate to ensure that there is appropriate access to information about these things and that the parties concerned have some role in the way in which the information is released. Mr Speaker, that is my view and I hope that it results in some consensus over a period of time on the way in which we use these documents.

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