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Thursday, September 03, 2009

Monty Python and a cabinet convention

From The Advertiser:
South Australian Premier Mike Rann has applied to access former Liberal government Cabinet documents about the state's 1995 United Water contract, under new FoI laws, which from next month will allow the release of Cabinet documents after 10 years. But UniSA law professor Rick Sarre said access would still probably be refused because the documents may contain confidential business information which could not be released under the Act.(It would involve a more substantial test than that.)

The Monty Python aspect of the Premier applying under FOI for documents held by his own department, and getting knocked back, is a first for me- appeal Premier, appeal!!

Second how to continue to justify the "convention"- the same apparently in all jurisdictions - that ministers do not seek internal access "to documents recording the deliberations of ministers in previous governments. In particular, Cabinet documents are considered confidential to the government that created them."?(From the Federal Government Cabinet Handbook- couldn't find the SA equivalent).

When the law, as it already does in several states, removes the cabinet document exemption as a barrier to public access after 10 years (even though other exemptions might still apply) you would have to say the convention preventing ministers accessing the same documents seems to be on shaky grounds.

I take it SA doesn't have this handy convention not to apply the convention too rigorously that appears in the Federal Handbook, and would seem to be tailor-made for Premier Rann's needs :
"175 Where continuity of administration requires reference back to Cabinet documents of previous governments, including Cabinet minutes, departments can provide ministers of the new government with summaries of relevant facts and of operative decisions necessary for an understanding of current issues, including, if essential to that understanding, summaries of Cabinet minutes of a previous government, but not the minutes themselves."

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