archive: March 2021

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.”

2 March 2021

Morrison refusal to stand down a Cabinet minister who is accused of rape is damaging his government, but more importantly it is sending a clear message to future victims: you won’t be believed. Richard Ackland explains why the ‘presumption of innocence’ excuse doesn’t cut it: “In times of need we all cling to the presumption of innocence and the legal standard required for conviction. The law is cautious and protective. Politics, however, is raw, cruel and on occasions destructive. The rule of law is not the same as the rule of parliamentary politics. The prime minister’s statement on ministerial standards says as much. ‘It is for the prime minister to decide whether and when a minister should stand aside if that minister becomes the subject of an official investigation of alleged illegal or improper conduct.’ Implicitly, the standards of the prime minister of the day determine the standards of the ministry in the face of an allegation of criminality. Being charged or convicted is not a precondition of the rather flexible standard. … [A]s a result of the complainant’s suicide last year, it cannot be thoroughly tested in the courts. … So it is the prime minister who is left without a chair when the music stops. To try and patch this politically, he would have to order an inquiry into the ‘alleged illegal or improper conduct’. It’s that or his ministerial standards don’t amount to a hill of beans.”