Page 655 - Week 02 - Wednesday, 11 February 2009

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Detail stage

Clauses 1 to 3, by leave, taken together and agreed to.

Proposed new clause 3A.

MR CORBELL (Molonglo—Attorney-General, Minister for the Environment, Climate Change and Water, Minister for Energy and Minister for Police and Emergency Services) (3.46): I move amendment No 1, circulated in my name, which inserts a new Clause 3A [see schedule 1 at page 707].

Proposed new clause 3A puts in place an exemption which the Liberal Party does not seem to believe is relevant in this place. It was disappointing to note that Mrs Dunne, in her closing speech, made absolutely no reference at all to the other very important principle that is at play in relation to the Freedom of Information Act, which is the provision of frank, fearless and open advice between ministers and public servants so that they can account to the parliament in accordance with their responsibilities under the Westminster system.

We heard not a jot, not a jot of an argument from Mrs Dunne about those issues that are at play. Instead, all we heard was the assertion that Mrs Dunne’s bill is good and Mr Corbell’s bill is bad. All we heard was the assertion, which I foreshadowed indeed in my own comments, that the Liberals and the Greens are on the side of open and accountable government and the Labor Party has some sinister and nasty agenda at play. This is the sort of simplistic and, I would argue, quite blatantly false representation of the position that we have come to expect from Mrs Dunne in this place.

As I pointed out in my speech, and which she failed to counter at all in her comments, this is a more nuanced debate when it comes to the issues of ministers receiving advice in a full and frank manner from their officials so they can properly account to the parliament. Indeed, we heard no argument from Mrs Dunne as to why she believed that the workings of cabinet itself and the cabinet notebook, which records the actual discussions of cabinet, not the decisions of cabinet, but the actual comments made by individual ministers in cabinet meetings, should be available under an FOI request. We heard no discussion from Mrs Dunne about what such a reform might mean for the cabinet and the principles of cabinet solidarity and the free and frank exchange of matters within cabinet. We heard no discussion at all.

I say to you, Madam Assistant Speaker, that if we were to apply the Freedom of Information Act to the cabinet notebook itself, ministers would not be able to sit in the cabinet room, openly disagree or debate each other’s ideas and then walk out of cabinet and feel confident that cabinet solidarity would be protected and maintained and that the government could present a clear and coherent view and position in relation to policy and legislative matters. That is what is at stake as a result of Mrs Dunne’s reckless view of the way the discussions of cabinet should be subject to freedom of information requests. That is the position she is putting in this place today.

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