26 May 2022

Canberra Liberals push to release ACT cabinet documents after a month

| Lottie Twyford
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Elizabeth Lee

The Opposition is calling on the ACT Government to release its Cabinet documents after 30 days rather than after a decade. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

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.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr

Chief Minister Andrew Barr MLA pictured with Deputy Chief Minister Andrew Barr and Leader of the Greens Shane Rattenbury. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

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.

READ ALSO Will a Federal Labor government change anything for Canberrans? The Chief Minister thinks so

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.

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HiddenDragon9:27 pm 29 Jun 22

Lo and behold, the report of the review of culture and accountability in the Queensland public sector, which was released yesterday, recommends –

“Cabinet submissions (and their attachments), agendas, and decisions papers be proactively released and published online within 30 business days of such decisions.”

https://www.coaldrakereview.qld.gov.au/assets/custom/docs/coaldrake-review-final-report-28-june-2022.pdf – page 9 of the PDF refers

The Queensland government has embraced the recommendations “lock, stock and barrel” –


but in the “everything’s fine and there’s nothing to see here” ACT, we will doubtless keep plodding along with the persistent whiff of a smoking barrel in the background and just tell ourselves that something really needs to be done about wood-fired heaters.

Notice that all these stories saying the liberals are too right, or need to go to the centre NEVER EVER EVER say what these supposedly too right policies are.

I reckon if federal Labor bought this up before the election to apply federally, the comments on here would be the opposite.

Zeds gone and good riddance. For good government in CANBERRA we need a good opposition and even though there’s still plenty of dead wood in the local Libs, Lee is a welcome improvement as leader. Plenty of dead wood in Labor as well.

I personally think it would improve our information when you consider most of what goes on in cabinet is a local council level Decisions. Hardly too much that needs protection for years.

The NZ govt 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.”
No doubt they are very good at coming up with “air tight” reasons for not publishing Cabinet material. It’s doubtful any similar legislation in the ACT would get up, as Rattenbury is part of Cabinet so the Greens are hardly going to vote with the Libs. Seems like it’s a headline looking for a credible story.

Oooops meant to say “Rattenbury and Co. are part of the Cabinet”

This is just silly, the cabinet, no matter who is in charge needs ro be able to have robust discussions on difficult topics. If the documents are released after a month it would simply lead to more secrecy and worse government as ministers would be too scared to have the necessary discussions and decisions would be clouded in political doublespeak.

Yeah it is basically wedge politics.

They are exploiting a perception of lack of transparency and are using a silly suggestion such as this to help reenforce that perception knowing full well it won’t get up and knowing full well that if in government they wouldn’t like it themselves.

Oh and I know I will get accused of being a Labor stooge for my comment about perception of lack of transparency. But seriously when has any government Liberal or Labor been so transparent that every single decision and document related to that decision is made public? Again this perception is mostly feed by wedge politics.

And that’s always been my dislike with the ACT Libs (and NSW state Labor). They need to present themselves as a viable alternative government rather than play political games. The gamesmanship may have worked for their federal counterparts for 20 odd years but it is far easier when in power (and you can get border force to release on water matters on Election Day) but even then in the end those games have cost them.

Hi Chewy14,

The ALP/Greens coalition isn’t going to give up their privacy and Ms Lee knows she doesn’t have the numbers. Pretty pointless stunt in my opinion.

To be effective, Ms Lee would need to find cracks in the ALP / Greens relationship and try and divide them.

Ken she could also try and present her party as a viable alternative.

JC, The current government doesn’t present itself as competent, so theoretically it shouldn’t be too hard for the local Libs.

But they’re mostly a rabble who’ve been out of power for too long and the electorate is inherently biased against them.

Which actually then feeds back in to my first point.

Quite true Chewy. Gonna shock you but I think some in ACT Labor have been there way too long. Berry being the main one.

If the Libs offered themselves as viable alternatives and had some centralist policies even I would consider voting Labor out.

How did a Liberal party member manage to say this with a straight face?

Obviously something just went down and they’d like to air the laundry.

10 years and everything changes. Facebook went to a million people in 3 years. Everything changes more rapidly

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