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Department of Premier and Cabinet

1. Introduction

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1.1 Purpose

1.1.1 This Handbook outlines the procedures for and conventions around the operation of the Cabinet and its support processes. It is produced as a guide for staff in government agencies and ministerial offices.

1.1.2 These procedures are designed to ensure the efficient and effective presentation of matters for consideration by Cabinet. For good governance, adherence to the procedures is essential.

1.1.3 The Handbook is maintained by the Cabinet and Executive Council Office (Cabinet Office) in the Department of Premier and Cabinet.

1.1.4 We welcome any suggestions or ideas either for improving the content and readability of the Handbook or for improving the processes in which the Cabinet Office is involved.

1.1.5 Cabinet Office staff are always available to advise and assist on matters of procedure. For general enquiries, contact the Cabinet office by telephoning 6230 5669.

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1.2 Principles of Cabinet

1.2.1 The procedures and conventions contained in the Handbook are designed to ensure Cabinet and its associated processes take account of the following fundamental principles.

1.2.2 Cabinet is ultimately responsible for the development, approval and coordination of the policies of the Government.

1.2.3 Cabinet processes are established by the Premier to ensure all Ministers are bound by the same rules and by high standards of probity.

1.2.4 A member of Cabinet who has a material interest in a matter to be discussed in Cabinet must declare the interest at the commencement of the meeting and may be required to absent themselves from discussion on that matter. The fact of the declaration and/or absenting will be recorded in any resulting Cabinet Decision about the item in question.

1.2.5 Cabinet is collectively responsible for the performance of the Government. Each Minister acts jointly with and on behalf of Cabinet colleagues in their capacity as Ministers. This is known as ‘collective responsibility’ and enhances joint support for and adherence to all decisions made in Cabinet.

1.2.6 Consultation is an essential element of the Cabinet process.

1.2.7 Information to be considered by Cabinet is to be of the highest standard. To ensure informed decision-making can occur, the advice submitted to Cabinet should be analytically rigorous, strategic in context, practical and relevant to the needs of Ministers.

1.2.8 Cabinet proposals are to reflect a rigorous analysis of the issue; consideration of regulatory best practice principles, the public interest, whole-of-government considerations and consistency across government policy. Submissions should be strategic in context, practical and relevant.

1.2.9 The deliberations of Cabinet and Cabinet Committees shall be conducted in a secure and confidential environment, and ongoing confidentiality of Cabinet and related records shall be maintained.

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1.3 Operation of Cabinet

1.3.1 The Government delivers policy through a Cabinet system of decision making, a convention inherited from the Westminster Parliamentary system.

1.3.2 The use of a group of Ministers known as Cabinet as the prime decision making body is not explicitly provided for in the Constitution Act 1934 nor by any other Tasmanian law.

1.3.3 In Tasmania the Cabinet comprises the Premier (as Chairperson) and all Ministers, and may include other members of Parliament, at the Premier’s discretion.

1.3.4 Cabinet meets regularly (usually weekly) and meetings are chaired by the Premier. Ministers and other members of Cabinet are expected to attend every meeting or provide the Premier with reasons for being unable to attend.

1.3.5 Agencies which prepare documentation for the consideration of Cabinet are doing so on behalf of the responsible Minister. It is the Minister who presents matters to Cabinet for discussion. Ministers are responsible for the proposals they bring forward, even where detailed development or drafting may have been done on their behalf by officers.

1.3.6 Similarly, the decisions of Cabinet are put into effect by individual Ministers whose actions are often authorised under particular Acts of Parliament or under provisions endorsed by the Governor-in-Council. Cabinet decisions have no legal standing till put into effect by the Parliament, the Executive Council or the Minister.

1.3.7 Departmental officers and ministerial staff should at all times act in support of Ministers' obligations to abide by Cabinet conventions and their Minister should be advised if there appears to be a breach of these conventions.

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1.4 Collective responsibility and Cabinet confidentiality

1.4.1 The collective responsibility of Ministers for Government decisions requires collective adherence to all resolutions agreed in Cabinet.  Cabinet decisions reflect collective deliberation and are binding on all Cabinet members as government policy.

1.4.2 The Cabinet process is designed to support the convention of collective responsibility.  To assist this, members of Cabinet are provided with all documents in advance of a meeting so that they are aware of the business coming to Cabinet.

1.4.3 Cabinet’s ability to reach collective decisions is aided by agencies ensuring adequate prior consultation on matters which come to Cabinet so that major differences between portfolios are resolved or understood, before discussion in the Cabinet room.

1.4.4 The Cabinet system also supports collective responsibility by providing a confidential environment which allows full and open discussion in order to reach a united conclusion which is binding on all members of Cabinet.

1.4.5 If a Minister is unable to publicly support a Cabinet decision, the proper course is for him or her to resign from Cabinet.  All Ministers are required to give their support in public debate to the collective decisions of and the policies formulated by Cabinet.  To dissent would leave a member of Cabinet with no option but to resign from Cabinet.

1.4.6 Ministers are to ensure there is no announcement of policy initiatives or expenditure commitments which have not been given Cabinet authority or, where appropriate, Governor-in-Council approval.  In exceptional cases where prior Cabinet clearance is not possible, proposed announcements must be cleared with the Premier.

1.4.7 Ministers are not to make public statements or comment on policy proposals which they are bringing, or which are to be brought, to Cabinet.  Promotion in public of a particular position may pre-empt Cabinet deliberations.  Identification of individual Ministers with particular views tends to call into question the collective basis of agreed outcomes.  Each portfolio Minister is responsible for direction and public presentation of policy within their portfolio responsibilities, and other Ministers should avoid separate policy stances becoming matters of public debate.

1.4.8 It is inappropriate for Ministers to accept invitations to speak about or comment publicly on matters outside their portfolio area without the prior approval of the Premier.  Where Ministers are required to speak publicly about an issue that crosses portfolio boundaries, the Minister should either obtain a collective view from Cabinet or discuss the issue with the Premier and other responsible Ministers.

1.4.9 Cabinet confidentiality is supported by restricting the distribution of and access to Cabinet documents.  Ministers, ministerial staff and agency officers must ensure that Cabinet documents are securely stored and accessed on a strict need-to-know basis (refer Section 1.8).

1.4.10 Collective responsibility is supported by the strict confidentiality afforded Cabinet documents and discussions in the Cabinet Room.  Cabinet is a forum in which Ministers, while working towards a collective position, are able to discuss proposals and a variety of options and views with complete freedom.  The openness and frankness of discussions in the Cabinet Room are protected by the strict observance of this confidentiality.

1.4.11 For the purpose of Cabinet confidentiality, without seeking to be exhaustive ‘Cabinet documents’ may include: Cabinet Minutes, a document recording a Cabinet decision, Cabinet Agendas; other records of Cabinet discussions; records of discussions or deliberations between Ministers, Secretaries of Departments and other senior officials and/or ministerial staff which would tend to reveal the deliberations of Cabinet if disclosed, or any other record relating to the deliberation or decision of the Cabinet. This includes any information submitted to or proposed to be submitted to Cabinet for its deliberation.

1.4.12 Having regard to the obligations imposed on Ministers by the conventions of collective responsibility and Cabinet confidentiality, officers should not seek from Ministers or from officers who may have been present, information about the views of individual Ministers or about aspects of discussion in the Cabinet Room.

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1.5 Matters which come before Cabinet

1.5.1 The type of matters which are to come before Cabinet (or a Cabinet Committee if relevant) include but are not limited to:

  • Any significant and/or politically sensitive policy issues, whether originating within the Government or from discussions with other governments, including new policies and variations to existing policies;
  • Proposed major policy reviews that will require consultation within the public sector, with the private sector or non-governmental organisations or that will absorb significant government resources;
  • Significant portfolio policy announcements and politically sensitive Ministerial Statements to Parliament;
  • Reports outlining the implementation of Cabinet decisions and key government commitments;
  • Discussion papers on proposed government policy intended for public consultation;
  • Any proposal which will require new or amending legislation;
  • Proposed references to, responses from, and the decisions of all Cabinet Committees;
  • Matters of an intergovernmental nature that may constrain the Government's ability to develop or amend policy, eg. national policy strategies, Council of Australian Governments (COAG) agreements, international treaties (particularly at the point when the Commonwealth proposes to sign, ratify or take any legally binding action on a treaty);
  • Matters, including partnership agreements, likely to have an impact on relations with the Commonwealth, other state or territory, or local governments;
  • Proposed new or significant expansion of existing commercial activities or Public Private Partnerships;
  • Major issues to be discussed, a report of significant outcomes to be agreed, or agreements to be signed at Ministerial Councils or similar fora, where Ministers are representing the Tasmanian Government;
  • Matters likely to have an impact on relations with public or private sector unions/staff, employer groups, significant community groups etc (including governmental or departmental negotiating positions on significant industrial relations issues);
  • Matters likely to have a major impact on community relations;
  • Major expenditure and revenue proposals, including proposals for specific purpose payments or major capital works (These are usually considered only in the Budget context);
  • Senior appointments in government departments (ie the salary is equivalent to or higher than Level 1 of the Senior Executive Service);
  • Appointments of chief executive officers of government businesses;
  • Appointments to significant boards, committees, authorities and advisory bodies, including directors of government businesses;1 
  • Appointments to statutory offices;
  • Any appointment to be made by the Governor-in-Council;
  • Government submissions to Parliamentary Committees or to Commonwealth inquiries and Parliamentary Committees and all Ministerial responses to the reports of Parliamentary Committees prior to their tabling in the Parliament;
  • Government responses to Private Members' Bills, Questions on Notice, Petitions prior to their tabling in the Parliament; and
  • Any matter a Minister believes the Cabinet needs to be aware of, particularly if collective responsibility is an important consideration.

1.5.2 Agencies should seek advice from the Cabinet Office or relevant Minister if they are uncertain about whether a particular matter should be submitted for consideration by Cabinet.

[1] An appointment is significant if: the members, in connection with their role on a body, receive remuneration of any type from government funds, or are responsible for allocating government funds or resources; it is to regulatory and licensing bodies, commissions, industry tribunals and boards, consumer and other tribunals of appeal or redress, major research bodies, regional coordination or service delivery bodies, bodies principally responsible for the natural and cultural heritage of the State and principal advisory bodies to the government or Ministers; or a Minister considers he or she should bring it to the attention of Cabinet because of the pre-eminence of the body in question, its scope and/or influence or function, budgetary impact or whole-of-government interest.

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1.6 Cabinet agenda Cabinet meetings are usually held on Mondays when Parliament is sitting, and on Tuesdays when Parliament is not in session, but may occasionally be held on other days.

1.6.2 1.6.2 The Cabinet Office prepares a draft agenda for each Cabinet meeting (on the basis of documentation and advice it has received from Ministers) and submits it to the Premier for approval early on the Wednesday prior to the Cabinet meeting.

1.6.3 1.6.3 The content and order of items on the final agenda are decided by the Premier.

1.6.4 1.6.4 The Cabinet Office distributes the Cabinet agenda, together with available submissions and other documents, to each member of Cabinet. Distribution usually occurs on the Thursday prior to the Cabinet meeting.

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1.7 Longer Range Forecast Cabinet Agenda Items

1.7.1 A rolling three month Longer Range Forecast (LRF) Cabinet Agenda is to be considered by Cabinet. The LRF Cabinet Agenda includes:

  1. The title of the future submission;
  2. Responsible Portfolio (or Portfolios if a joint submission);
  3. Purpose of the submission;
  4. Anticipated date to be considered by Cabinet; and
  5. Level of importance eg low, high, critical;

1.7.2 The LRF will be prepared monthly by the Cabinet Office based on advice from Ministers offices in consultation with their relevant Agency(ies). It is the responsibility of the Minister’s Office to manage the provision of this information to the Cabinet Office;

1.7.3 The draft LRF will be submitted to the regular Heads of Agencies meeting by the Secretary, Department of Premier and Cabinet for verification before the final document is provided to Cabinet;

1.7.4 All items on the LRF should be developed and submitted to Cabinet within the timeframe set out in the LRF. For this reason, the forecast date must be realistic and should take into account normal consultation and lodgement processes (eg the 10-Day-Rule – see 6.3).

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1.8 Cabinet decisions

1.8.1 Decisions of Cabinet are notified to the Minister(s) responsible for actioning that decision.   A copy of the decision is also delivered directly to the relevant portfolio agency, and in some cases to other affected agencies.

1.8.2 Cabinet decisions are recorded by the Cabinet Secretary 1 .

1.8.3 When decisions of Cabinet are recorded, the official copy is lodged with the Cabinet Office.

1.8.4 The original of each decision is signed by the Secretary, Department of Premier and Cabinet and the Premier.

1.8.5 An "action" copy of each decision is provided to the originating Minister(s), and the head(s) of the responsible portfolio agency and any other agency which may be involved in the implementation of the decision.

1.8.6 The Minister and the relevant portfolio agency are responsible for informing, consulting or liaising with other affected agencies concerning implementation of the decision.

1.8.7 Decisions relating to legislation are also copied to the Chief Parliamentary Counsel.  Decisions with financial implications are forwarded to the Secretary, Department of Treasury and Finance.  (These “for information” copies of decisions are classified as short-term value records for the purposes of the Archives Act and may be destroyed at the discretion of the receiving agency.)

1.8.8 A set of all Decisions (except those classified as “Secret”) arising from each meeting of Cabinet is forwarded to members of Cabinet.  This is referred to as the "Consolidated Set".

1.8.9 Cabinet Decisions may not be copied. The means of conveying the essence of a Decision to officers involved in implementation and follow-up action is a matter for determination within the relevant ministerial offices or agencies.  Where precision is essential, and it is considered that this can only be achieved through sighting a hard copy of the Decision, the Minister or head of the relevant agency should request, by writing to the Manager, Cabinet Office, that a copy be made.  It is the responsibility of the recipient of the Decision to ensure that such copies are handled with an appropriate level of confidentiality.

1.8.10 The Premier may authorise a submission to be “Secret”.  Submissions classified as “Secret” are subject to restricted distribution.  Decisions to such submissions are also classified “Secret”.  When Secret Decisions (identified as such on the envelope), are distributed to a ministerial office or agency they are to be opened by the Minister or addressee only.

1.8.11 To ensure that delays in formalising Cabinet Decisions are kept to a minimum the Cabinet Office has instigated the following performance targets:

  • The time for preparing Cabinet decisions for endorsement  by the Secretary, Department of Premier and Cabinet, shall not exceed three  hours from the time the Cabinet Secretary advises the Cabinet Office of any  changes to the draft decisions following the end of a Cabinet meeting.
  • The time for preparing decision letters for distribution  to Ministerial Offices, following signing by the Premier, shall not exceed  three hours.

[1]The Cabinet Secretary may be a person appointed to that role under the Constitution Act 1934, a Parliamentary Secretary to Cabinet appointed by the Premier, a member of Cabinet nominated by the Premier, or the Secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet or his or her delegate. In this Handbook the term "Cabinet Secretary" is used to refer to any of these positions.

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1.9 Storage and security of documents

1.9.1 Cabinet confidentiality is supported by restricting the distribution of and access to Cabinet documents.  Formal Cabinet papers are identified by unique security features and a record of the distribution of documents is maintained.

1.9.2 Ministers, ministerial staff and agency officers are responsible for  protecting the confidentiality of Cabinet documents.  They must ensure that materials for Cabinet  are securely stored and accessed only on a strict need-to-know basis.  These measures must ensure that only  appropriately authorised officers may access draft or finalised Cabinet  materials in hard or electronic form.

1.9.3 All documents prepared for the purpose of submission to Cabinet must  be clearly identified as such, whether or not they form part of the  documentation which is finally submitted.

1.9.4 All matters prepared for the purpose of consideration by Cabinet,  as well as the deliberations and decisions of Cabinet, are confidential.  Cabinet and Cabinet Committees are forums in  which Ministers must be able to freely and frankly discuss all options in  relation to a matter before coming to a collectively agreed position.

1.9.5 Cabinet Office maintains hard copy files of all formal Cabinet documents  for archiving purposes.  While agencies  have an obligation to maintain appropriate records they must also ensure the  protection of Cabinet confidentiality.

1.9.6 The following guidelines apply to the storage and distribution of hard copy and  electronic documents, including drafts or working documents:

  • Access and distribution is to be restricted to  those directly involved in the development or analysis of the document.  When Cabinet documents are stored electronically  by agencies, such documents must be stored in secure directories with access  provided on a need-to know-basis.  Authors  are to ensure that recipients understand the need for confidentiality of such  documents;
  • Printed copies are to be transmitted and stored  securely, eg use a sealed envelope, hand deliver documents and ensure that  documents are not left exposed on desks or counters;
  • Once a document has been finalised, previous  drafts which have no continuing relevance should be destroyed.  Printed copies of documents may be shredded  or arrangements made for destruction by an approved security shredding agent.  This destruction is authorised in the  Disposal Schedule for Short-term Value Records DA No. 1258 issued by the State  Archivist;
  • Action copies of Decisions or final versions of submissions,  when retained by agencies, must be kept in a secure system and not on general  departmental files;
  • The security and handling procedures apply  equally to electronic versions of Cabinet documents.  Only the finalised version of Cabinet  documents should be retained after submission to Cabinet; and
  • Faxing or  emailing of documents is discouraged and should only be undertaken after the security  of such transmission has been considered.

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1.10 Types of Cabinet submission

1.10.1 There are currently two types of Cabinet submission, a Minute and a Briefing:

  • A Minute is a submission containing recommendations for consideration and decision by Cabinet.  It should provide a detailed analysis of the issues involved and an analysis of the options from which the recommendations emerge.  Detailed information about Cabinet Minutes is provided at Section 3; and
  • A Briefing is the form of submission used to provide information which does not require Cabinet to make any decision other than to note the information.  Briefings are used for appointments, returning bills for final approval, and presenting Committee Minutes or other information for endorsement. The format of Briefings is tailored to the type of information being presented.  Detailed information about Cabinet Briefings is provided at Section 4.

1.10.2 In this Handbook the term "submission" refers equally to Minutes and Briefings.  These latter terms are used only if the process or documentation is unique to one or other of them.

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1.11 Administration of Cabinet matters

1.11.1 The Cabinet Office is part of the Office of the Secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet.  It is located on Level 4, Executive Building, 15 Murray Street, Hobart.

1.11.2 The Cabinet Office is responsible for the routine administration of Cabinet matters and acts in accordance with policies established by Cabinet and procedures set out in this Handbook.

1.11.3 As Cabinet meets almost weekly throughout the year the Cabinet Office adheres to a strict timetable of activity in preparation for each meeting.

1.11.4 Advice on matters of procedure can be obtained by telephoning the Office Manager on 6270 5669.

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