9 March 2021

An important test case: “The Morrison government’s claim that national cabinet deliberations are exempt from freedom of information laws will be challenged in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, setting up a test over the new body’s immunity from scrutiny. The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) will file a case with the tribunal as it seeks to access information on at least 15 environmental approvals ‘fast-tracked’ by the federal environment minister, Sussan Ley, a task so far stymied by the government’s insistence the documents fall under traditional cabinet rules. The prime minister, Scott Morrison, has insisted national cabinet deliberations are treated the same as those in the federal cabinet, which are kept confidential and not subject to freedom of information legislation. The national cabinet comprises federal, state and territory leaders. It was established in early 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic and replaced the Council of Australian Governments, which was not bound by cabinet confidentiality rules.” Cabinet confidentiality in Australia lasts for 30 years unless the government chooses to waive it — but there is another way: “Unlike in Australia, where there is a blanket exemption from disclosure, the New Zealand Official Information Act 1982 (OIA) allows access to cabinet documents if it can be demonstrated that the consequences of releasing the information do not outweigh the public interest in keeping the information confidential.”