Tuesday, 8 February 2022
National Cabinet; Order for the Production of Documents
PATRICK () (): I move:
(1) The Senate rejects the Government's public interest immunity claim, on the unacceptable ground that material related to the National Cabinet is subject to Cabinet confidentiality, made in response to the Senate order for the production of documents of 24 November 2021 (no. 1277), in relation to:
(a) the Doherty Institute modelling;
(b) material required under Senate orders adopting the recommendations of the second interim report of the Select Committee on COVID-19; and
(c) questions on notice asked in the Senate or in the course of the select committee inquiry.
(2) The Senate requires the following ministers to immediately comply with the order in full:
(a) the Minister representing the Treasurer;
(b) the Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services; and
(c) the Minister representing the Minister for Employment, Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Business.
(3) The Senate resolves that, until documents are tabled in compliance with the order, those ministers shall not exercise the following procedural rights provided to executive senators by the standing orders:
(a) move a motion connected with the conduct of the business of the Senate at any time without notice;
(b) move that a bill be declared urgent and, if the motion is agreed to, move further motions concerning the time allocated for consideration of the bill;
(c) move at any time that the Senate adjourn;
(d) move for the adjournment of debate, having spoken in the debate;
(e) move that the question be now put on more than one occasion, and after having spoken in the debate;
(f) receive precedence in debate over other senators when they seek the call; and
(g) present documents.
It remains the view of the government that national cabinet was established as a committee of cabinet and the documents and deliberations should remain confidential. On 17 September last year, the Prime Minister and all the leaders of state and territory governments made it clear that national cabinet has strengthened relationships by facilitating regular confidential discussions in the national interest, founded on the same principles of trust and confidence and collaboration which underpin state and territory and Commonwealth cabinets. Cabinet confidentiality is a longstanding principle of the Westminster system of government and a well-established ground for a claim of public interest immunity with respect to orders by the Senate.
Labor has long been supportive of greater scrutiny of the operations of the national cabinet, particularly through the Select Committee on COVID-19. Senator Patrick's motion reflects the frustrations of the opposition that the orders of the Senate continue to be refused. Given the ruling of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, it is not acceptable for the government to persist with the view that deliberations of national cabinet should remain confidential. Calling a body a cabinet does not make it the same as cabinet.
Labor does not support capricious action against ministers, and the penalties proposed in this motion should never be invoked on impost. However, we regard the persistent refusal of the government to provide information in these particular circumstances relating to national cabinet as unacceptable. We will be supporting the motion today in its entirety. For further evidence of the serious and systemic refusal of the government to respect and comply with the powers and conventions of the Senate, I refer senators to the third interim report of the Select Committee on COVID-19 which highlights the government's egregious aversions to accountability.