When I have regard to all of the matters to which I have referred, I have concluded that the Senior Ministers’ group was not a committee of Cabinet. It was treated as a group that was analogous to a committee of that sort but its being treated in that way does not make it a committee of that sort. There is no evidence of Cabinet’s having decided that the Senior Ministers would be able to make decisions on certain matters that would be binding upon Cabinet itself, as in the case of the NSC, or that their decisions required Cabinet’s discussion and ratification, as in the case of decisions of the ERC. If the Senior Ministers were a committee of Cabinet, it would be expected that there would have been some formal decision about the status of their decisions. On the evidence I have, there is none. It would be expected that there would be some reference to the work of the Senior Ministers in material available to the public or at least to the legislative arm of government. An obvious place to reveal its existence would have been in PM&C’s Annual Reports. If not there, then it would be expected that information about its existence would have been available from the Cabinet Secretariat as directed by the Cabinet Handbook but it was not. There is no reference to be found. Unquestioningly, the former Prime Minister was within his rights to create the Senior Ministers’ group and to direct its tasks as he would. Having regard to the findings I have made, however, I am not satisfied on the evidence that I have that he established it as a Cabinet committee either on an ongoing or an ad hoc basis.
Each of their decisions was regarded as a final decision of Cabinet and recorded in a Cabinet minute. Some of those submissions had previously been considered by Cabinet on two or three occasions but the Senior Ministers took the final decision. Their second meeting was held on 11 April 2006. In addition to considering matters without submission, they also considered one Cabinet submission and took a final decision on that Cabinet submission. At their third meeting on 27 November 2006, Senior Ministers considered and took a final decision on one Cabinet memorandum. In all, between October 2004 and December 2007, Senior Ministers met on 15 occasions and considered a total of 131 items at those meetings. Of those items, 128 were without submission, two were Cabinet submissions and one was a Cabinet memorandum.
Evidence was given that since the election of the Rudd Government, the Strategic Priorities and Budget Committee of Cabinet has undertaken the role that was previously undertaken by Senior Ministers meetings.