Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2009 Week 02 Hansard (Wednesday, 11 February 2009) . . Page.. 660 ..
will no longer be available to be exercised in those circumstances. That is why the amendment is being introduced.
It is also worth making the point that the commonwealth’s cabinet notebook is explicitly exempt from the commonwealth’s FOI laws as well. So any suggestion that this is radical or that this is an introduction, as Mr Rattenbury claimed, of something that does not exist in any other legislation is just false. It is just false. For that reason we believe it is important to provide this exemption.
This exemption does not apply to all cabinet documents. I note in Mr Rattenbury’s comments there was some suggestion, or some implication that I read into his comments anyway, that this was going to apply to all cabinet documents. It does not. It applies—and I think Mr Rattenbury acknowledged this in his statement later on in his speech—to the cabinet notebook itself. It is a minute book—the minutes of cabinet, not the decisions of cabinet, per se. It is the minutes of discussion in cabinet.
As I have previously outlined to members in speaking earlier to this amendment, there are good reasons why the minutes, which reflect the discussions of cabinet, are protected—for the purpose of ensuring that the collective decision making role of cabinet can be maintained. In keeping with the notion of cabinet solidarity which underpins other in-principle documents such as the ministerial code of responsibility ministers are bound to support the decisions of cabinet once decisions have been made even though in cabinet they are free to argue against certain policy positions. Once cabinet makes its decision all ministers are bound to accept and support that decision.
If the cabinet notebook which records those discussions and the legitimate and reasonable disagreements that may occur on policy matters within cabinet is to be made available through freedom of information, the ability of ministers to freely and openly argue their positions in cabinet will be compromised because it will immediately be used to highlight for political ends what political opponents of the government will see as division within the government. That is a destructive use of FOI in a way that undermines the notions of cabinet government and collective responsibility.
That is why the amendment is being moved. It is not a radical change. As I say, this principle is well understood at the commonwealth level and there are no proposals to change it. So for these reasons we believe this is an appropriate reform and I commend the amendment to the Assembly. I thank Mr Rattenbury and the Greens for their support of it. We will continue to argue the importance of maintaining appropriate protections for this cabinet document in the forthcoming inquiry.
MRS DUNNE (Ginninderra) (4.08): I will be brief. There was another matter that I intended to address in my previous comments, and that was the interjection that the attorney made during my closing statement and then his expansion on that in his comments. When I said that the Stanhope government was not prepared to go down the same path as the commonwealth, I was referring to the commonwealth’s decision to do away with conclusive certificates. I was not in fact referring to the attorney’s proposals to create new classes of documents. The commonwealth is proposing, in its reforms, to create classes of documents that will not be subject to the act. I was not