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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 7 Hansard (19 June) . . Page.. 2002 ..

MR MOORE (continuing):

St Augustine said, "Lord, make me chaste but not just yet." I think there is an element of that in the argument about prospectivity and retrospectivity. It is a matter that should be decided by the Assembly as a whole, as all of these matters are, but we thank the committee for their report. It is my intention, as I flagged at the government business meeting, to bring this legislation on in executive members business on Thursday.

MR BERRY (10.44): With these sorts of provisions, there is always the prospect of someone creating the impression that someone is keeping something secret for an ulterior motive. That is the impression that has been created here from the word go. It was intended to create the impression that those awful people who have control of the cabinet have a long list of secret documents that they do not want released and that therefore, as the defenders of openness, honestly and transparency, we should make them release those documents . Superficially, if someone in the community heard that, they would say, "It sounds like a pretty good idea to me." That is what I think people who put forward these proposals preyed on.

Many of us respond that as politicians we consider things in cabinet. I am talking now about the retrospective element. As politicians in cabinet and in forums, we make contributions to internal debates on the basis that they are not going to be made public for some time. So there is a level of openness and frankness, which might not be the case if we knew details would be made public tomorrow. That is not to say that anybody is keeping anything secret, but things are said which might not be said in the political circumstances of the day.

Mr Kaine made the valid point that we have to think about public servants and others involved. The basis of a strong public service is the freedom to give full and frank advice to ministers and to cabinet. If senior public servants who give advice to cabinet know that the full and frank advice they give might be exposed six years later in their career, whatever that might be, it is understandable that the advice might be more cautious. I do not think there should be a reason for this sort of caution in advising cabinet.

On the retrospective side of things, a range of senior public servants and others have prepared advice that has found its way into the cabinet system. During the preparation of that advice, the understanding was that it was going to be subject to the normal cabinet-in-confidence rules.

I am pleased that the committee is opposed to retrospectivity. Labor supported the idea of prospective exposure after six years. We think that is okay. It is a big change from what has happened in the past. I go back to where I started. The real issue we have to face is the retrospective argument. People will trade on the dark secrets that are being kept by those who oppose retrospectivity, when clearly that is not the case.

It is a matter of making sure that people with a longer term view about good government and this parliament protect the interests of those who, in good faith, provided previous governments-whether this one or some other government-with frank and fearless advice. I do not know what people might find that would be embarrassing, I would not have a clue. But I bet you if there is retrospective availability of cabinet documents they will be out there trawling tomorrow, trying to find out something that would embarrass somebody. I do not think that is productive.

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