Recently, when writing a lecture on Cabinet Government, I thought it would be a simple task to list the Cabinet Committees of the Rudd Government. But the online Government Directory to which I turned has a peculiar feature. It tells us that that “Cabinet Committees play an important role in the effectiveness of the Cabinet system” but continues to list those used by the Howard Government alongside an up-to-date list of the Rudd Ministry.

Since no other source that I could find listed the current Cabinet Committees, I thought I would write to my local MHR (who happens to be Kevin Rudd.) The answer I received from his electorate office after a six week delay was that the PMO has decided “not to release any information regarding the Cabinet Committees” because it is “not common practice for the Government to comment on the workings of Cabinet”.

Back in early February an announcement did seem imminent. When Lindsay Tanner spoke to the National Press Club on 6 February he fielded a question about membership of Labor’s razor gang. He answered that the Prime Minister had yet to determine the formal membership of Cabinet’s Expenditure Review committee.

“And although I’m not privy to the timing on this, I’m expecting that Kevin will announce that and the various other Cabinet Committees, their composition and so on in the very near future,” said Tanner.

At the end of February the Deputy Prime Minister did fill in part of the puzzle. Saying that “Cabinet Committees necessarily do not receive much public exposure, but they are essential for bringing together major decisions and integrating our actions as a government”, Julia Gillard announced a new Social Inclusion Cabinet Committee to be chaired by the Prime Minister.

We also know that Cabinet’s National Security Committee continues, along with Howard’s innovation of having senior public servants and key advisers present. (It met with Australian Defence Force Chief Angus Houston present following the assassination attempt on East Timor’s President and Prime Minister.)

So what is the problem with providing a full list of Cabinet Committees? Why now has the PMO decided to be coy about making available details which the Howard Government routinely published? Is it just a case of a decision made by over cautious rookie advisers in the PMO who are unfamiliar with past practice?

Or is the difficulty that Rudd made a rather muddled election promise to draw “relevant people from the opposition together” to form a “combined action cabinet committee” and is not yet ready to concede that fulfilling this particular election pledge has not been possible?

So, if any one has a list of Rudd Government Cabinet Committees please let me know. I still need to finish that lecture.

Peter Fray

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