Prime Minister Anthony Albanese Breaks the Law and His First Election Promise As He Keeps National Cabinet Secret From the Public
By Shane Dowling
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has broken Freedom of Information laws which are the same laws PM Albanese accused Scott Morrison of breaking as recently as December 2021. Senator Rex Patrick has taken the initial steps to have it tested in court, if need be, in the near future which will be extremely embarrassing for PM Albanese and the government.
When Anthony Albanese was opposition leader last year, he attacked the federal government for not releasing documents from the National Cabinet because the government claimed they were protected from freedom of information laws as the “National Cabinet” was a sub-committee of the Federal Cabinet which is protected from freedom of information laws.
But a judgment by Justice Richard White found that the “National Cabinet”, which was set up by Scott Morrison and is nothing more than the Prime Minister and State Premiers, did not have any relationship with the federal cabinet.
In August 2021 Senator Rex Patrick won a case in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal with Justice Richard White: “finding the national cabinet was not, as the prime minister had contended, a subcommittee of the federal cabinet.”
White concluded none of the documents sought by Patrick under FOI were an “official record of a committee of cabinet” and were, therefore, not covered by the cabinet exemption.
Katy Gallagher, the shadow finance minister and chair of the Senate select committee on Covid-19, told Guardian Australia she would move for immediate disclosure of key documents outlining the pandemic response.
But Scott Morrison and his government refused to hand over the documents.
In December 2021 it was reported:
Albanese, who has also attempted to get national cabinet documents under FOI, told Guardian Australia the department’s decision to reject his request was “extraordinary”, warning that the prime minister’s department was “not above the law”.
“Mr Morrison’s obsession with secrecy has undermined the law that protects all Australians’ right to know and, if left unchecked, threatens other fundamental rights,” he said.
In March 2022 the then shadow attorney general, Mark Dreyfus told the Canberra Times Labor would unwind the secrecy scheme in government.
“But Labor’s position is that it was never subject to cabinet-in-confidence rules for FOI requests, and we would adhere to this in office.”
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and the National Cabinet
The National Cabinet, which is the Prime Minister and State Premiers and has nothing to do with the Federal Cabinet, met on Friday the 17th of June 2022. The day before Senator Rex Patrick sent an FOI request to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (as per below) seeking “The agenda and associated papers related to the national cabinet meeting scheduled to take place on 17 June 2022”.
The following day (17/6/22), which was the day of the National Cabinet meeting, Senator Rex Patrick filed another FOI request with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet for the minutes of the National Cabinet meeting.
On the day of the hearing (7/6/22) journalist Paul Karp asked Anthony Albanese “if he had proposed ending national cabinet secrecy and if so what had changed from his earlier criticism. He replied “no”, refusing to answer the second half of the question by stating “you got to ask one question”.
Anthony Albanese answered with a “no” and refused to answer the real question claiming it was a second question. Albanese’s refusal to answer the question is scandalous and the routine is straight out of Scott Morrison’s playbook for avoiding accountability. Every voter should be very worried given it concerns a matter of government transparency and accountability. Albanese has only been in government for 4 weeks and he’s already avoiding scrutiny by copying a dishonest Scott Morrison tactic.
Senator Rex Patrick, who finishes in the Senate at the end of June, tweeted:
If the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet fail to hand over the documents requested by Senator Rex Patrick, then the next step is to file a complaint with the Australian Information Commissioner and Privacy Commissioner who will make a ruling. Then any party can appeal the Privacy Commissioner’s ruling to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
This sets up Anthony Albanese for the first real test of his honesty and integrity as Prime Minister because he can’t be saying in December 2021 that “the prime minister’s department was “not above the law”” and then when he wins the election decide that the prime minister’s department is above the law. And March 2022 the then shadow attorney general, Mark Dreyfus said Labor would unwind the secrecy scheme which at this point is now a broken election promise.
If the matter gets to the ATT, it will do damage to the credibility of the government, several Ministers and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
Why this is important is because we are relying on Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and his government to implement a federal ICAC and there are numerous whistleblowers facing court in the near future hoping Anthony Albanese will intervene. But if Anthony Albanese is prepared to openly and blatantly break an election promise and has in effect decided that the prime minister’s department is above the law then it doesn’t look good for the federal ICAC, whistleblowers or others reliant on an honest and accountable government.
This issue will also be a test for all those in the media and on social media who claim to be anti-corruption and who have done a good job exposing the Liberal/National party corruption over the last 9 years. Will those same media and social media users now be exposed for only being anti-Liberal/National Party corruption by failing to report on this matter? Well, we are about to find out.
Prime Minister Albanese said in December 2021 that Scott Morrison had “undermined the law that protects all Australians’ right to know and, if left unchecked, threatens other fundamental rights” and now Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has done exactly the same thing.
If we had a right to know in December 2021, we have a right to know now!
Senator Rex Patrick has said, as per above, he will be following this through seeking answers via the proper processes, even though he is leaving the Senate, so we haven’t heard the last of it. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese should bite the bullet and hand over the documents because he has picked a fight he can’t win at least not in the court of public opinion and highly likely in a court of law given the AAT decision in favour of Senator Rex Patrick highlighted above.
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