National Cabinet (Australia)

Last updated

National Cabinet
National Cabinet meeting.jpg
National Cabinet meeting on 22 March 2020
TypeIntergovernmental decision-making forum
Participants
Formed13 March 2020

National Cabinet is the Australian intergovernmental decision-making forum composed of the prime minister and state and territory premiers and chief ministers. Originally established on 13 March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, National Cabinet replaced the now-defunct Council of Australian Governments (COAG) as the primary intergovernmental forum on 29 May 2020, citing excessive bureaucracy and infrequent meetings. [1] National Cabinet is composed of the main forum (prime minister, premiers, and chief ministers), and specialised committees focusing on: rural and regional Australia, skills, infrastructure, health, transport, population and migration, and energy. [2]

Contents

History and description

The formation of the National Cabinet was announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison on 13 March 2020, [3] following a meeting of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG). [4] It was created via the "National Partnership on COVID-19 Response" agreement [5] to "coordinate and deliver a consistent national response to COVID-19" during the global COVID-19 pandemic. [6] [7] [8]

The New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, joined a National Cabinet meeting in May 2020 to discuss the economic benefits of trans-Tasman travel between the two nations. [9]

It has been described as akin to Australia's War Cabinet during the Second World War. [10] Meetings of National Cabinet are held using secure video conferencing. [8]

Role and responsibilities

The National Cabinet is responsible for endorsing and coordinating national actions in Australia in response to the coronavirus pandemic. It is advised and supported by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC), [11] an ongoing body composed of the Chief Medical Officer of the Commonwealth, Brendan Murphy, and the Chief Health Officers of each of the states and territories. [12] The AHPPC uses the currently available modelling, research and data to inform the decisions made by the National Cabinet. [13]

The prime minister said that the National Cabinet has "the status of a cabinet meeting" at a federal level, meaning it has the same confidentiality and Freedom of Information protections as the federal cabinet, under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 . [8] The legal authority for much of this structure is based on practice and convention, contained in the official Cabinet Handbook; [14] strictly speaking, based on the Westminster system, cabinet decisions do not of themselves have legal authority. This comes from the Federal Executive Council, which gives legal force to decisions made by cabinet. [8] The "National Partnership on Covid-19 Response" states in Part 6 (46) that the parties "do not intend any of the provisions of this Agreement to be legally enforceable". [5]

Public policy specialist Jennifer Menzies describes the National Cabinet as "COAG by another name", which has taken on a leadership role during a time of national crisis. She writes "Though called a cabinet, the national cabinet is technically an intergovernmental forum. The conventions and rules of cabinet, such as cabinet solidarity and the secrecy provisions, do not apply to the national cabinet. Its power is that which the leaders of all Australian jurisdictions bring to negotiate on behalf of their people, and to implement the decisions reached." This model has been called executive federalism. [13]

Current membership

NameOffice heldIn office sinceParty
Scott Morrison Prime Minister of Australia (Chair)24 August 2018  Liberal
Dominic Perrottet Premier of New South Wales 5 October 2021  Liberal
Daniel Andrews Premier of Victoria 4 December 2014  Labor
Annastacia Palaszczuk Premier of Queensland 14 February 2015  Labor
Mark McGowan Premier of Western Australia 17 March 2017  Labor
Steven Marshall Premier of South Australia 19 March 2018  Liberal
Peter Gutwein Premier of Tasmania 20 January 2020  Liberal
Andrew Barr Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory 11 December 2014  Labor
Michael Gunner Chief Minister of the Northern Territory 31 August 2016  Labor

Meetings and press releases

Succession of COAG

There had been suggestions for the National Cabinet to continue on a permanent basis after the pandemic is over, effectively replacing COAG. On 14 April 2020, Prime Minister Morrison was reported saying, "The processes we've established for the National Cabinet may prove to be a better way for our federal system to work in the future, but this will be a matter for another time", and Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan said no other state leaders had objected when he had brought up the idea of continuing the National Cabinet. He also told The Australian newspaper, "The National Cabinet process has removed the political boundaries that can hamper COAG". [28] [29]

Former Labor Premier of South Australia, Jay Weatherill called it a "fantastic innovation [that] should continue", adding that it had "achieved more in the last few months than many COAGs have achieved over many years". [30]

On 29 May 2020, the Prime Minister announced that the National Cabinet would replace COAG (with COAG being abolished) and meetings after the pandemic would be held monthly, instead of the biannual meetings of COAG. [1] According to Simon Benson of The Australian newspaper, an analogy used to describe the significance of this was "as if the United Nations had been turned into a government". [31]

See also

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References

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Further reading