Members of the public are required to register to participate in these events. The Cabinet Handbook states that forms for the agenda of meetings include:. The Handbook defines Cabinet documents broadly so as to include:. The procedures for access to and the handling of Cabinet documents within the public service are outlined in the Commonwealth Protective Security Manual.
Cabinet documents must be held separately from the other working documents of government administration and must be destroyed when no longer in day-to-day use. Governments do not have special access to Cabinet documents created by former governments. A range of legislation is in place to maintain the confidentiality of Cabinet documents and deliberations including:. The issues in relation to the confidentiality of Cabinet documents discussed below are:.
Perhaps the most significant issue concerning Cabinet confidentiality is its relationship with the push for greater transparency in government activities. The movement towards more open and accountable government gained momentum over the past 35 years or so with the establishment of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, freedom of information laws, the introduction of limited whistleblower provisions, the creation of oversight mechanisms such as ombudsmen and the various codes of conduct for the public service, lobbyists, Ministers and their staff.
The resistance to transparency in Cabinet suggests that there is a practical and political limit to openness in government. It is in the political interests of the government to maintain control over its agenda, support an efficient decision making process, and maintain a system that provides the appearance of a strong and decisive government.
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This is discussed further below. The Freedom of Information Act exempts Cabinet documents as a general category from a statutory duty to release upon request. This is a blanket exemption with no public interest test. The amendments are yet to come into force.
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Some have argued that the blanket protection for Cabinet documents in freedom of information legislation is antithetical to the values of open government and accountability and prevents legitimate public scrutiny of government activity. Media, civil liberty organisations and some academics criticised the exception of Cabinet documents from the public interest test when it was proposed as part of the Freedom of Information Amendment Reform Bill During a Senate Committee inquiry into the Bill, some witnesses argued that the release of Cabinet documents should be subject to a public interest test as currently operating in New Zealand which requires balancing the interests of collective responsibility in Cabinet with the need to ensure that significant documents are not unduly withheld.
For example, in Anne Cossins wrote:. The absence of a public interest test under exemptions which protect such high-level documents prevents judicial scrutiny, not only of violations of an applicant's right to be informed of the affairs and decision-making processes of government, but also of whether government agencies have tried to circumvent that public interest by refusing to disclose documents. Hence the absence of the test prevents an assessment of any violation to the democratic process sought to be protected or maintained by FOI legislation.
A key issue however, is the extent to which the value of public scrutiny is balanced against the value of Cabinet as a forum for the confidential, frank and informed consideration of policy advice by government. Where Cabinet documents may relate to a matter before the courts, it is for the courts to consider and determine whether the information should be released for the purposes of its proceedings, taking into account whether it is in the public interest to do so. Rimmer , introduced the notion that the public interest in withholding a document should be balanced against the public interest in releasing it, while nonetheless maintaining protection for the general class of cabinet documents.
The doctrine of crown privilege was weakened in Australia in when the High Court determined that this immunity may not be absolute and that the public interest in maintaining government confidentiality could be outweighed by a superior public interest claim to disclosure, where for example, withholding the document may cause a greater harm to the administration of justice.
In the historic decision of Sankey v. Whitlam , the High Court ordered the production of Loan Council documents of the Whitlam Government and determined that their disclosure was not prejudicial to the public interest nor to the operation of the Loan Council and that certain extracts of those documents be made available in the proceedings.
A Cabinet secret
Justice Stephen summarised the conflicting principles in the Sankey v. Whitlam judgement:. On the one hand, a measure of secrecy must surround at least some aspects of what has been called the counsels of the Crown; the executive government of the Commonwealth should, in those cases where real need arises, be able to preserve the confidentiality both of information which it possesses and of advice which it receives. On the other hand, in civil and criminal cases alike, the course of justice must not be unnecessarily impeded by claims to secrecy and those who, with the Governor-General, exercise the executive power of the Commonwealth, Ministers of the Crown acting in exercise of their offices, should, in common with those officers of the public service of the Commonwealth who advise them, be as amenable to the general law of the land as are ordinary citizens.
In Commonwealth v. While the changing judicial practice has not directly expanded the powers of parliament in relation to the confidentiality of Cabinet documents, it has had some influence on the approach taken by parliament to claims of public interest immunity. The Cabinet Handbook states that the Cabinet secretariat, located with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, must be consulted if a Minister or department receives a request for Cabinet documents and Cabinet related material, by a court, investigatory body or parliamentary committee.
However, the general power of the government to withhold documents from Parliament and its committees on the basis of crown privilege or public interest immunity is contested.
The main interests in conflict here are the interests of Cabinet as a forum for confidential deliberation, the interest of the parliament in holding the executive to account, and the broader interests of citizens in participating in informed democratic deliberation. There are no effective limits or general exceptions on any class of document that may be ordered to be tabled. It is within the power of each House of Parliament to determine the merits of an argument for public interest immunity. While requests may be made for information which may be contained in cabinet documents, it is generally accepted that such documents are not summoned by the Senate.
The full extent of [the Senate's] powers has never been the subject of a ruling by the High Court. While one may draw analogies from Egan v Willis and Egan v Chadwick , there is no certainty that the Commonwealth Government is legally obliged to produce privileged documents to the Senate, as ordered by the Senate. It may be that all privileged documents are excluded, or it may be that only some of them such as Cabinet documents are excluded, or it may be that none are excluded.
Whereas the Senate has had greater experience in attempting to gain government information, including information contained in Cabinet documents, the House of Representatives, whose dominant membership forms the government, has had different issues with respect to Cabinet concerning the status of Cabinet material. As Sol Encel has documented, Cabinet documents have been referred to and quoted from, in proceedings of the House of Representatives on many occasions since the early years of federation. When advised, on a point of order, that the ruling might not accord with past practice, the Speaker went on to say:.
The Minister is debarred from making the document itself public, and also from revealing its contents. As for the case cited by the honourable member for Batman, when certain documents were quoted in the course of a debate in this House, I point out that the contents of those documents had previously been published in the press. The status of Cabinet documents in the House of Representatives evolved further when, in , Prime Minister Menzies justified the limited use of a Cabinet document of the previous government, by the Minister for the Army.
Menzies told the House:. I want to re-affirm my belief as the Leader of the Government that it would be a sound practice that no reference should be made to Cabinet files except for the purpose of— a discovering what operative decisions have actually been made; and b ascertaining the contents of communications in fact made between the government and outside persons or authorities. In the Government resorted to a rarely used power in the House of Representatives, in an attempt to compel the production of a Cabinet document from the opposition.
The opposition then attempted to censure the Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs, claiming the leaked document contradicted his position. The government amended the censure motion, and after some protracted debate, successfully moved that the House order the production of the Cabinet submission so that it would be tabled in the chamber. No further action was taken against the member. If a Commonwealth public servant discloses Cabinet material without authorisation, under current law they could be subject to criminal prosecution under s.
The Australian Law Reform Commission recently recommended to the government that the general secrecy provision within the Crimes Act be amended to focus on the harm that could result from the unauthorised release of information rather than the general category of that information. It was not considered that harm to collective responsibility or to the political process necessitated protection via criminal law. Accordingly, the Commission recommended that Cabinet documents as a general category should not be included in a criminal secrecy provision, but rather subject to administrative processes and disciplinary penalties.
These are a kind of authorised leak which are politically calculated and accepted, and often occur in the lead up to the Budget. However, unauthorised leaks that originate from within the public service may be treated as a major breach of government confidentiality and potentially dealt with under criminal law as discussed above. These leaks damage the level of trust between the government and the public service and lead to greater restrictions on the circulation of Cabinet documents within departments, which may ultimately impact on the quality for the advice provided to government.
Once a document is brought into Cabinet as a submission, attachment to a submission or circulated at a meeting of Cabinet, it might attract immunity from statutory, parliamentary or judicial orders for their production. This has been an issue in Queensland. This test will provide that a Cabinet submission will be protected if it was brought into existence for the dominant purpose of submission to Cabinet for its consideration.
Cabinet is an institution that has evolved from a range of conventions over hundreds of years. The need for confidentiality of Cabinet documents has been called into question by values of democratic scrutiny, transparency in government and the interests of the administration of justice. The values of open and accountable government need to be balanced against the benefits of stable government and the facility of confidential, frank and informed consideration of policy advice by the executive.
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A possible middle-ground between blanket confidentiality and open transparency in Cabinet might be a harm-based approach where protections are removed where there is no significant threat to the broader Cabinet process, considering the public interest merits of individual documents. Section 6 1 , Oaths Act Cwlth. M Atkinson ed. Australia: economic and political studies , Macmillan, Melbourne, , p. The first Commonwealth Cabinet consisted of nine Ministers, whereas the current Cabinet consists of 20 Ministers. The general points made in this and the above paragraphs were sourced from P Weller, Cabinet government in Australia, — practice, principles, performance , University of New South Wales Press, Sydney, Section 22A, Archives Act Notetaking was introduced in Cabinet in , discontinued at the end of World War II, and reintroduced in It was not until that the decision was made to declassify Cabinet notebooks after 50 years.
The relevant provisions are due to come into force on proclamation or six months after royal assent to the related Australian Information Commissioner Act This is discussed further in a section below.
Indeed, some would argue that less informed and considered decisions have resulted from the increasing dominance of the Strategic Priorities and Budget committee within Cabinet, comprising of the Prime Minister and the three most senior Ministers. Section 34 of the Freedom of Information Act Exemptions to the general rules include attachments to Cabinet submissions, a document that Cabinet has authorised to be published, and where the material concerns factual information that would reveal a deliberation or decision of Cabinet that has not been officially disclosed.
See Subsections 34 4 — 6 , Freedom of Information Act , as amended. The public interest test was introduced by the Freedom of Information Amendment Reform Act and is due to come into force on proclamation or six months after royal assent to the related Australian Information Commissioner Act The Act as amended lists factors favouring access such as promoting the objectives of the Act, and factors that must not be taken into account, such as embarrassment to the government. Factors that would not favour access are not listed.
M Paterson, Freedom of information and privacy in Australia: Government and information access in the modern state , Lexis Nexis, Sydney, , p. The concept is not well defined in law. Duncan v. Conway v. Rimmer AC Or that baseball signed by Babe Ruth? Turned out the ink wasn't available when the Sultan of Swat was playing ball. The lab is one of several under the Secret Service's questioned documents branch, which is also responsible for handwriting analysis and document authentication, and handles as many as cases a year.
The branch works on Secret Service investigations, plus counterfeiting probes and fraud and helps law enforcement agencies around the nation and worldwide. It handles an array of cases. In one, a New York City crossing guard had forged a dozen racist and offensive letters to police officers and a reporter. As it turns out, the guard was trying to frame a chiropractor as part of a bizarre feud, court documents showed. In another, a former studio assistant to artist Jasper Johns forged documents saying that pieces were authentic Johns' works that the artist had given to him and he had the right to sell them.
But they were really stolen. Others cases were larger, like the Washington, D. Cantu and his team analyzed the samples and helped crack the case. Walters remembers analyzing documents from the Sept. Another colleague, Kathleen Storer, who recently retired, recalled analyzing a threatening letter that led to the prosecution of a man who would testify only with a paper bag over his head. We saw a lot of really unusual things. Both the ink library and book collection were named for Cantu.
The year-old was kind and patient, his friends and family said, and extremely humble. He loved teaching others, and investigating was his passion. Cantu was that good at keeping a low profile. Lab director Kelli Lewis said they are constantly amassing new ink, as well as printer ink samples, taking clues from each new case and developing techniques to confront modern criminals. Open main navigation Watch.
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