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Monday, June 21, 2010

Cabinet confidentiality breached-sun still rising

The claim is often made that cabinet confidentiality and solidarity is at the heart of the Westminster system of government. It's a fairly watertight exemption in all our freedom of information laws-none of our governments will have a bar of adding a public interest test to this category of documents. It's said to be essential for 30 (on the way to being reduced progressively to 20) years to protect collective decision making and full and frank exchange of views and opinion. But the highly selective approach taken on the issue was apparent in these three recent developments, two of which involved government decisions to release cabinet details. The third represents apparently, someone acting self interestedly or who on this occasion thought we should know the details. I'm sure the sun rose this morning and the earth continues to turn on its axis, despite dire prediction of consequences of this magnitude if we ever were to know what happens in the cabinet room.

The Australian 30 May: "Senator Ludwig released cabinet documents showing that Wayne Swan first sought his approval for an exemption of normal rules for the RSPT commercials on May 10 -- after the Minerals Council of Australia had begun funding anti-RSPT ads."

Herald Sun 28 May: "Newly declassified Cabinet documents show the minister responsible for the scheme, Peter Garrett, told the Prime Minister of "unacceptably high occupational health and safety risks" last year." The Government tabled letters in the Senate yesterday in response to a Senate order.

The Weekend Australian 19 June in this extract  How Rudd bet the house from a book by Lenore Taylor and David Uren launched today by the Prime Minister. Someone was happy to pass on the fine detail of cabinet decision making in the dark days of the GFC in 2008, including that Finance Minister Tanner was against the spending package. I'm sure they didn't just make this up:
The strategic priorities and budget committee of cabinet met in Brisbane on Tuesday, October 7, to consider the government's crisis response. There was no agenda. Rudd urged everyone, ministers and advisers, to speak their minds. (Treasury Secretary) Henry started with a chart showing how much domestic consumption, exports, housing, business investment and stocks were supposed to contribute to the economy under the current forecasts. Then he explained what could happen to each of these with the collapse in confidence already being witnessed. And he said this time the normal first lines of defence against economic downturn would not be enough to offer sufficient protection. The rise in welfare spending and the fall in the government's tax receipts would provide some cushioning, the plunging Australian dollar would help exporters, and the Reserve Bank would inevitably cut interest rates, but none of it would be sufficient to counter a downturn this big.

Swan used his own advisers' work to float the idea of a stimulus package of several billion. Henry said there was a case for a stimulus in the region of $2bn or $3bn, far less than the $10bn he had canvassed at the Lodge meeting two months earlier. Tanner argued vigorously against a spending package. The economy, he said, was still showing reasonable growth, according to the June quarter national accounts released a few weeks previously. Tanner had sweated hard to deliver $7bn in budget cuts from the 2008-09 budget and was loath to see them cast aside.
There's more in the extract if you are interested. Enjoy the sun...

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