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Wednesday, September 29, 2021

The COAG Legislation Amendment Bill likened to the Dog is a Cat Act

I was one of the witnesses at yesterday's Senate Committee hearing on the government's wrong headed, bizarre attempt to legislate that anything considered or decided by the 'National Cabinet' (the PM, state premiers, and territory first ministers) is not for any us to know unless the PM at his discretion decides to let it loose in the public domain.

The contention in putting forward the COAG Legislation Amendment Bill 2021 (Schedule 3) is that 'National Cabinet' is a committee of the Federal Cabinet and entitled to all the secrecy that goes with that. In addition to an amendment to the Freedom of Information Act in an attempt to achieve that purpose, having lost when Justice White was not persuaded by the government's evidence, the bill would amend fourteen other acts. 
If it becomes law 'National Cabinet' documents-inputs, deliberations, decisions- would  attract the (absolute, no public interest test) Cabinet Document exemption in the FOI act, be locked up and maybe released in 20-30 years time.
The government says the same should go for documents considered or concerning deliberations and decisions for any group consisting of any Tom Dick or Mary the PM designates as a subcommittee of the 'committee' known as 'National Cabinet'.
As one witness yesterday said it's like proposing a law that a dog is a cat.
The bill-yet to be voted on-got a real pasting from everyone who testified, except the three public servants from the Prime Minister's department who tried in answer to questions to explain and justify this further backward step in transparency. 
From within the ranks, the Australian Human Rights Commission spoke up against and the Australian Information Commissioner in a submission supported by all eight state and territory counterparts said it was unnecessary.
Although government senators are in the majority on the Committee considering the legislation, only one the Chair, turned up, leaving open slather to Senators Ayres (NSW ALP), Rex Patrick (Independent SA) and Larissa Waters (Greens Qld). They had a field day getting plenty of confirmation the legislation proposed is a dangerous dud, and leaving those three public servants perplexed and pained in trying to justify it.
Most of those following this closely are doubtful it will pass the Senate where the government will need two crossbenchers to vote with them to get it through. Make that three-one government senator today said he would cross the floor to vote against.
I'd worry about any senators who see more secrecy as just what our democracy needs these days and suggest they should be tested for cognitive decline.