The latest government criticisms come from the Prime Minister herself, with Julia Gillard publicly reprimanding her colleagues for breaching cabinet confidentiality last week on a debate about asylum seekers.

“I’ve rebuilt a proper cabinet system of government,” Gillard announced. “That does enable ministers to have frank and fearless discussions within cabinet. That right comes with the responsibility of confidentiality.”

It comes after Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald reported a cabinet meeting last week that revealed divisions on how to deal with asylum seekers. Members of the Right faction — including Stephen Smith, Bill Shorten and Immigration Minister Chris Bowen — pushed to reopen the detention centre on Nauru, on the condition that the government would also send asylum seekers to Malaysia and Manus Island for processing.

Many commentators saw Gillard’s comments yesterday as a strike against Kevin Rudd and his closed discussion style of leadership.

Michael Harvey in the Herald Sun called it a “a thinly veiled swipe” at Rudd. Michelle Grattan in The Age called it “… a clear reference to the extensive criticisms about the way Mr Rudd ran cabinet”. As Phillip Coorey writes in The Sydney Morning Herald: “This was a reference to the ”gang of four” system under Mr Rudd in which four main members made the important decisions and the other ministers were a rubber stamp.”

Yesterday the opposition hinted that that leaker was Innovation Minister Kim Carr.

But Rudd would never have had a breach such as this, says David Penberthy in The Daily Telegraph:

“There can be no greater demonstration of government dysfunction than a breach of cabinet solidarity as seen last week over border protection. The ability to debate policy vigorously in secret is central to the effective running of government. Julia Gillard has lost this privilege.

It is something which never happened to her predecessor Rudd — albeit possibly because he was such a control freak that he never told his colleagues what he was up to.”

Leaks aren’t such a bad thing. As Richard Farmer wrote in Crikey yesterday, it’s a good development if Gillard isn’t as reliant on the presidential-style decision making that recent Australian PMs have all employed:

“Perhaps ministers will now pluck up their courage and demand that cabinet continue to operate in the more traditional fashion with discussion first and decisions second. If that happens then there will be far more examples of the cabinet leaks that used to be a staple of political reporting from Canberra and our democracy will be all the healthier for it.”

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey