Minor parties push for cabinet papers to go public in weeks not years
Cabinet documents usually kept secret for 10 years would be made public within 30 days under sweeping transparency reforms sought by some minor parties that hope to dominate the upper house after this month’s state election.
Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party’s policy – which would bring Victoria into line with Queensland government reforms – will be announced on Monday, in a platform that the Greens and the Reason Party indicated they could support.
Justice Party MP Tania Maxwell says Queensland has set the standard for accountability.Credit:
Queensland Labor Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced in June that the state would release its cabinet papers within 30 days instead of 30 years, after an integrity review that found the public was more likely to trust their government if decisions were open to scrutiny.
Tania Maxwell, who is seeking re-election for Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party in the upper house, said other jurisdictions such as New Zealand had made the change and Victoria should follow suit.
“It’s time to lift the lock on cabinet documents and decision-making,” Maxwell said.
Greens integrity spokesman Dr Tim Read said there was a case to be made to release cabinet documents sooner, and Reason Party leader Fiona Patten said she was open to the idea.
Dr Catherine Williams, from the Centre for Public Integrity, called on the Victorian government to follow Queensland’s “gold-standard precedent”.
“It will substantially improve transparency of the exercise of public power and thereby also promote accountability,” Williams said. “We therefore wholeheartedly endorse Victoria following in Queensland’s footsteps.”
She said there would still be provisions for commercially sensitive documents, for example, remaining confidential.
The Age has been surveying readers as part of its Victoria’s Agenda approach to inform coverage of the state election and ensure the interests of voters were addressed by politicians. Readers said integrity in politics was the biggest factor that could sway their vote.
Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes said last week that cabinet often considered very sensitive material and confidentiality was sometimes needed to allow departments to give frank advice.
“Of course getting information out there to the public is important, but there are important processes to make sure that you can govern effectively and not be undermined by everything being out in the open,” Symes said.
Cabinet documents are exempt from freedom of information requests, but the information commissioner can order documents be released on review if the papers do not meet that threshold.
“Most cases that involve a dispute about whether a document is exempt under the cabinet exemption don’t relate to actual cabinet documents as such, but to documents that are somewhat removed from the cabinet process,” commissioner Sven Bluemmel told The Age.
Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes said the public’s right to know should not undermine confidential cabinet processes.Credit:Eddie Jim
Bluemmel has for months called on the government to launch a review of the Freedom of Information Act and require more documentation to be published online within a set deadline, but has not said whether that should include fast-tracking the release of cabinet documents.
If its push to make cabinet documents public within 30 days failed, Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party would seek to reform the act to narrow the scope of what can remain confidential.
The Greens and the Reason Party also supported overhauling the law, while the attorney-general said the government had already embarked on reforms to encourage release of information.
Premier Daniel Andrews last month said Labor would enact all the recommendations made by the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC), which includes making ministerial diaries public, and tightening rules for political donations and capping campaign expenditure.
Minor party members in the upper house are keen to see more transparency.Credit:Joe Armao
Reason Party leader Fiona Patten said all government-held information should be publicly available as a starting point, with exemptions only in special circumstances such as for national security or privacy.
“I would hope whoever wins government is very open to transparency reforms. They should welcome them with open arms,” Patten said. “I can’t see what they’ve got to lose.”
She has proposed minimising the dominance of government MPs in parliamentary committees, and introducing a mechanism to compel the government to respond to parliamentary reports after Labor failed to respond to the homelessness inquiry. The IBAC should also enforce the code of conduct for members of parliament, Patten said.
Opposition Leader Matthew Guy said he had publicly released departmental advice when he was the planning minister under the former Liberal government.
“Now we see a government that is mired in scandal,” Guy said.
Guy did not say whether he supported reforming freedom of information rules, or making cabinet documents public sooner, but has committed to giving the IBAC and the Victorian Ombudsman more funding.
The Liberal Democrats have also announced policy to give the watchdogs more “teeth” and funding.
The Morning Edition newsletter is our guide to the day’s most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Sign up here.
Most Viewed in Politics
From our partners
Source: Read Full Article