Bill to exempt national cabinet from FoI in doubt after Liberal senator says he will cross floor

Alleged Corrupt Politician Full Name: Scott Morrison and "National Cabinet"
Politician Position Held at time of Alleged Corruption: PM and Various State Premiers inc Daniel Andrews and Gladys Berejlkian
Details of Corrupt Practise engaged in (briefly): Hide $250b slush fund
Date of Corrupt Act: 2021-09-29
Scott Morrison and premiers arrive for national cabinet. Independent senator Jacqui Lambie and Liberal senator Gerard Rennick say they will oppose the government’s bill to protect national cabinet from FoI laws.The federal government’s bill that would shroud national cabinet in secrecy appears doomed in the Senate with Liberal senator Gerard Rennick and independent Jacqui Lambie both announcing they oppose it.

Rennick said he “doesn’t like secrecy at the best of times” and will cross the floor on national cabinet secrecy – and a second government bill that would exempt the Future Fund from freedom of information laws.

Rennick on Wednesday also took aim at Scott Morrison for “pushing aside” his backbench to elevate state and territory leaders to a body that was not a “real cabinet” without first consulting the Coalition party room.

Independent senator Jacqui Lambie and Liberal senator Gerard Rennick say they will oppose the government’s bill to protect national cabinet from FoI laws.

© Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP Scott Morrison and premiers arrive for national cabinet.

If Rennick crosses the floor, the Coalition would need four of five votes on the crossbench to pass either bill.

Related: Future Fund worth $250bn says FoI requests ‘administratively burdensome’

Independent senator Rex Patrick is opposed to national cabinet secrecy and has “serious concerns” about shielding the Future Fund from freedom of information requests.

The Coalition introduced the national cabinet secrecy bill earlier in September to blunt the impact of a recent tribunal decision in Patrick’s favour that would have allowed access to key documents.

The bill sets out that for the purpose of federal secrecy laws, the national cabinet gains the same protections as a committee of the federal cabinet, notwithstanding a ruling in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal that it is not.

The bill has been criticised by the Australian Human Rights Commissionlegal experts, and even one of the leaders sitting around the national cabinet table, with the Australian Capital Territory chief minister, Andrew Barr, labelling it “possibly a solution looking for a problem”.

On Wednesday, Lambie announced her opposition to the national cabinet bill, telling Crikey it amounted to Morrison attempting to “pass a bill that says down is up and up is down”.

“He knows what we all know: national cabinet is not a committee of cabinet,” Lambie said. “The public knows when we’re being played. We aren’t going to change the law just because it’s inconvenient to the PM’s people.”

Rennick told Guardian Australia he had “a problem with what I don’t think is a real cabinet to begin with”, noting the Coalition party room “never signed up to having this style of cabinet anyway”.

“The party room or the people [didn’t get a say] … I didn’t vote for Dan Andrews to have a say in running Australia, likewise Victorians didn’t vote for Annastacia Palaszczuk to have a say in running Australia either,” he said.

“You’ve got eight to 10 people in this national cabinet on top of the federal cabinet, and the backbenchers have been pushed aside even though they’re the ones who’ve been democratically elected to run Australia.”

Rennick argued that given national cabinet decisions regarding “destruction of livelihoods, denying kids their education, keeping families apart, all this quarantining … all those meetings need to be completely transparent”.

Rennick said greater transparency would help “hold to account premiers reneging on their agreements” to reopen according to the national plan.

“You have these meetings – and it’s going to get more confusing if there’s secrecy behind the meetings – then the premiers come out anyway and they all go their own way. Who’s in charge? If everyone is in charge, no one is in charge. And it’s going to be harder to hold people to account if it’s all in secret.”

Asked about legislation granting the Future Fund an exemption to FoI laws, Rennick said he was “not voting for that either”.

“Yet again, you’ve got unelected fund managers paid … up to $1m a year for risking other people’s money. The idea these guys … are not going to be held accountable for it? Absolutely no way.”

Patrick told Guardian Australia on both bills it “seems to me like Scott Morrison sits in his office all day wondering what to make secret next”.

Patrick welcomed Rennick’s opposition to the national cabinet secrecy bill, suggesting it showed “even members of [Morrison’s] own party are distancing themselves from [his] unhealthy secrecy obsession”.

On Monday, the department of the prime minister and cabinet first assistant secretary, John Reid, told an inquiry the national cabinet secrecy bill did “no more than [make] good the decision of the prime minister, earlier in 2020, that national cabinet be established as a committee of cabinet”.

Related: Legal experts blast ‘bizarre legislation’ proposed to shield national cabinet from FoI requests

“The government’s view remains that national cabinet was established and intended to be established as a committee of cabinet, as was made clear by the prime minister and the premiers at the time it was established,” he said.

Labor is yet to resolve its position formally on either bill, but is expected to block the national cabinet secrecy bill and has also warned against Future Fund secrecy.

The shadow attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, said “at a time when record amounts of taxpayers’ funds are being spent responding to the pandemic, the Australian people have every right to be kept informed about what the federal government is doing in their name, and with their money”.

Source : https://www.msn.com/en-au/news/australia/bill-to-exempt-national-cabinet-from-foi-in-doubt-after-liberal-senator-says-he-will-cross-floor/ar-AAOWtPQ

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