The ‘secretive’ ACT Government should be forced to publicly release its cabinet documents within 30 business days of making a decision, according to the Territory’s Opposition.
Canberra Liberals’ Leader Elizabeth Lee today released an exposure draft for a bill that would significantly reduce the current 10-year timeframe for the release of cabinet documents.
While such a proposal does have some precedent overseas, there are no other jurisdictions in Australia with such a short timeframe.
In South Australia, like the ACT, cabinet documents are released after a decade.
Federal and Queensland cabinet documents are released after 20 years while some other jurisdictions have to wait 30 years.
Ms Lee said she saw no reason the ACT Government could not significantly reduce this timeframe given its scope of responsibilities.
“Government must be open and transparent wherever possible,” Ms Lee said.
The Opposition Leader accused the Labor-Greens alliance of having fostered a culture of secrecy during its two decades in power.
“This government routinely hides their failures and mismanagement from the public by refusing Freedom of Information requests on the grounds they contain cabinet material,” she said.
“This bill strikes the right balance between providing necessary transparency while also giving exemptions to documents deemed not in the public interest.
“To simply hide behind a policy that says Cabinet documents cannot be released for 10 years as a reason not to be upfront with Canberrans is not good enough.”
The bill Ms Lee has proposed would amend the Freedom of Information Act (2016) so the government has to proactively release cabinet documents after a month. The former lawyer argued such a change is perhaps more necessary because the ACT is a unicameral government.
That means there is no upper house that, in other jurisdictions, would provide additional checks and balances on the power of the legislature to make decisions and pass laws.
Queensland and the Northern Territory are also unicameral jurisdictions.
Ms Lee’s bill made provisions to exempt certain records from release.
The Canberra Liberal’s draft exposure bill is modelled on similar laws which were passed in the unicameral jurisdiction of New Zealand in 2018. The country’s cabinet is now required to proactively release its cabinet papers and minutes after 30 business days unless there is a good reason not to publish all or part of the material.
But it’s recently been reported by New Zealand media that only 20 per cent of papers had been proactively released within the government’s timeline.
Some difficulties had arisen due to poor record-keeping by individual government ministers. It’s unclear if similar issues would arise in the Territory.
The current ACT cabinet is made up of nine ministers: Chief Minister Andrew Barr, Deputy Chief Minister Yvette Berry, Labor Ministers Rachel Stephen-Smith, Chris Steel, Mick Gentleman and Tara Cheyne, Greens Leader Shane Rattenbury and Greens Ministers Rebecca Vassarotti and Emma Davidson.