Judges Rule Non-Confidential National Cabinet Documents


The judge ruled that the documents used by the Intergovernmental Cabinet to make a decision on Australia’s COVID-19 response are not subject to confidentiality.

Independent Senator Rex Patrick launched a court battle after failing to request freedom of information to obtain a document outlining the minutes of the National Council of Ministers.

Judge Richard White of the Executive Court of Appeals ruled that it was not part of the prime minister’s formal cabinet (or “Cabinet Committee”), including members of parliament and ministers.

This meant that it was not subject to the same confidentiality rules that normally apply.

White said the key difference was that the country’s cabinet consisted of the prime minister and state and territory leaders, each responsible for their own parliament.

The Prime Minister’s Office and the Cabinet Office have been granted a 28-day stay to publish the documents and give them time to decide whether to appeal the decision.

The agency was established in March 2020, early in the outbreak of COVID-19 in Australia.

The conference was designed to replace the Australian Government Council (COAG) to coordinate the country’s response to the pandemic.

Patrick said legal decisions are a great victory for transparency and accountability.

“It turned out to be inappropriate and illegal,” Patrick told ABC Radio on August 6.

“The vault is currently open. It is still protected. This is not a cult blanche.”

Confidential national security and commercial information was still protected under the Information Disclosure Act.

Patrick is also considering FOI requirements for medical advice provided to leaders on the impact of blockades and border closures.

Treasury Minister Simon Birmingham said it would be up to the lawyer to consider the referee’s decision.

“The prime minister is very transparent in holding a press conference and effectively answering many questions after every national ministerial meeting,” he told reporters in Canberra last week.

“We will focus on the immediate challenges of working with states and territories. The legal team can be concerned about these issues.”

AAP contributed to this report.

Daniel Y. Ten