The release of the latest batch of Federal Cabinet documents highlights the broken pre-election promise by Premier Rann to open access to all Cabinet documents after 10 years, Shadow Finance Minister Rob Lucas said today.
In August 2009 Mr Rann announced with great fanfare his new policy of supposedly releasing Cabinet documents after only 10 years:
“From October the 1st it means that all of the documents from 1999 going backwards from there can all be available to the public or the media. All of the documents relating to the State Bank, relating to the ETSA privatisation by the Liberals of the water privatisation, all of them will be available for public scrutiny.”
Mike Rann, 12 August 2009
It is clear that Mr Rann’s promise refers to all documents before 1999 being made available. However the fine print of the policy makes it clear that it only applies to documents between 10 and 20 years old. The “Cabinet documents” website states:
“Following changes to the Freedom of Information (FOI) process from 1 October 2009 Cabinet Documents between 10 and 20 years old can now be accessed under the following policy ‘Premier and Cabinet Circular 31: Freedom of Information Release of Cabinet Documents under the Ten Year Rule’.”
So rather than providing access to all documents as promised, Mr Rann has restricted access to the period of between 10 and 20 years old. In addition to this restriction, the policy outlines further possible exemptions that relate to law enforcement, public safety, trade secrets, personal information or legal professional privilege.
The ‘Cabinet documents’ website also makes it clear that Cabinet documents older than 20 years must be sought via the usual FOI process by applying direct to the agency.
This of course means agencies can refuse access on the basis of the Cabinet document exemption. In fact this is what happened when the Liberal Party sought copies of all documents between 1982-89 relating to the former Labor Government’s decision to privatise SAGASCO.
Mr Rann’s own department refused access to four documents on the following grounds:
“The documents were specifically prepared for submission to Cabinet. I have determined to exempt these documents under Clause 1(1)(a)”
“This is yet another broken promise by Mr Rann and a clear indication his big policy announcement in 2009 was just a publicity stunt and a fraud,” Mr Lucas said.