South Australian Senator Rex Patrick has thrashed National Cabinet for its secrecy – telling Sky News people have a “right to know”.
Senator Patrick is pushing to clear the smokescreen around National Cabinet after having a freedom of information request turned down.
“I did go straight for the jugular and I requested the minutes of the National Cabinet on the basis that I think there is an abuse going on,” he said.
“At the start of WWII, the government formed a national council, and that was appropriate, a national council of federal and state leaders, but they didn’t place this veil of secrecy that cabinet places over everything.
“We’ve got a situation here in Australia now where we have a meeting of doctors, the AHPPC, that’s considered a meeting of cabinet.
Senator Patrick said the secrecy was “totally unacceptable” and contrary to cabinet conventions.
“The doctrine of Cabinet confidentiality goes back hundreds of years, and certainly since our federation we’ve accepted the idea that when senior ministers meet to discuss Australia’s governance and our future that those discussions should be held confidential,” he said.
“The difficulty here is that the prime minister has disbanded COAG, which is an inter-governmental arrangement, and now places that entire range of sorts of meetings underneath the National Cabinet.
“So I don’t have a problem with the principle of Cabinet confidentiality, I absolutely support that, what I have a concern about is the way in which the secrecy veil is being now spread across every inter-governmental meeting.
Senator Patrick conceded National Cabinet was a high-ranking meeting of individuals but said it was “falling apart”.
“We have disagreements now about what is the definition of a hotspot, we’ve got awkwardness about how many people should be coming back to Australia and being repatriated in each of the different states,” he said.
“Unable to meet or to reach agreement on borders.
“We’ve got the National Cabinet not meeting for another three weeks and premiers coming out now after these National Cabinet meetings and doing their own press conferences.”
“The thing is falling apart.”
Senator Patrick said National Cabinet would continue falling apart as it looks to recover the costs of JobKeeper, JobSeeker and all of the different stimuli used in the pandemic.
“It’s not in accordance with the conventions, the norms, to have a meeting of the cabinet of ministers responsible to multiple governments being covered by the doctrine,” he said.
“What I want to see is transparency around some of these big decisions, and the ability for the Australian population to weigh into the discussions.
“That’s how democracy works.
“Citizens, who the government serve, get to have a say.”