MICHAEL KEATING. The Gaetjens Report: a footnote

The Government has refused to release the Gaetjens report which purportedly exonerates the former Minister, Bridget McKenzie, and thereby the Government from charges of political bias in the distribution of the Community Sport Infrastructure grants. But why this refusal to release the report – the only obvious answer is because the report cannot stand-up to public scrutiny.

According to the Government, the report by the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Phil Gaetjens, into the administration of the Community Sport Infrastructure (Sports) grants cannot be released because it is a cabinet document.

Frankly that is an absurd proposition. Invariably when a government commissions a report on something, it is normal for it to first go to Cabinet, but it is then subsequently released to the public.

As a former Cabinet Secretary, I can say that the precedents very much favour releasing reports of this nature which require public acquiescence and/or confidence that the Government has acted correctly. Otherwise, what is the point of commissioning such a report?

The only exceptions that I can think of is where the report covers matters of national security or where the report covered policy advice to the Government, at least some of which the Government decided to reject. But, for example, the Budget is initially a secret Cabinet document, but it is eventually released and the decisions therein are explained and justified in the Budget documentation. And even when a report, such as the Henry Tax Review, was eventually not supported by the Government, it was still released for public comment.

Especially in the present case of the Gaetjens report into whether or not Bridget McKenzie is guilty or not of misconduct it is not sufficient for the Prime Minister, or the Cabinet, to determine the answer on their own without releasing the report on which that decision was based. The public need to know the evidence and whether all the relevant issues were considered in reaching this verdict.

As I said in a previous article in Pearls & Irritations, on 6 February,( MICHAEL KEATING. Scomo and the Public Service: How Bad Can It Get?) “A secret trial where the evidence considered and the reasons for the judgement are not released does not satisfy any standard of accountability”. Furthermore, in that article, I queried the only evidence that was cited to acquit Ms. McKenzie of political bias, and I also queried whether all the right questions were addressed.

In these circumstances, unfortunately the refusal by the Government to release the Gaetjens report leads to only one conclusion, and that is that this report is inadequate as it cannot stand-up to public scrutiny.

Michael Keating is a former Head of the Departments of Prime Minister & Cabinet, Finance, and Employment & Industrial Relations. He is presently a Visiting Fellow at the Australian National University.


Michael Keating is a former Secretary of the Departments of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Finance and Employment, and Industrial Relations.  He is presently a visiting fellow at the Australian National University. 

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7 Responses to MICHAEL KEATING. The Gaetjens Report: a footnote

  1. Avatar Ed Cory says:

    I am less concerned about the release of the report, than the PM’s endorsement of the principle that ‘the best use of public money is the use that best suits us’, having no regard to maximising the public good, nor for the legitimate claims of others for a share of that public money. This is a potentially dangerous tipping point in public administration, and a major test of its apolitical character.

  2. Avatar john austen says:

    Dr Keating: thanks for the thought provoking discussion! It strikes me that disrespect by Parliamentarians and public servants for the Constitution leads to the behaviour on display – and there is likely to be more odious examples not on display. Their common interpretation of Constitution spending powers was upended in 2014 https://johnmenadue.com/john-austen-the-high-court-the-williams-case-and-transport/. While that post talked about transport, it is equally relevant to other fields not mention in the Constitution like most aspects of sports, drought, water, energy, bushfires etc. Their interpretation was rejected, but life continues as before. This seems to have been missed by the Thodey review, the Auditor General and commentators. I could guess what Mr Gaetjens had to say but perhaps he will surprise me. It is not that the Constitution is inflexible – the Government can pursue gift giving for any purpose with the agreement of Senate and States. Such adherence to (irksome to many) legally required input and oversight (including implicitly by State anti-corruption bodies) might suppress many excesses. And impress on all that obedience is only to be to lawful orders. A possible analogy to the current situation might be: some people have escaped constitutional jail, are armed and their backers keep asking them for money (grants)…… The answer does involve exciting car chases – investigations into specific hold-ups/corruption allegations. However unless they get incarcerated into constitutional jail for the initial breakout – whether or not there is a hold-up…. Thanks again

  3. Avatar Peter Johnstone says:

    The refusal of the government to release the Gaetjens report certainly indicates that the report “is inadequate as it cannot stand-up to public scrutiny.” It is also likely that the report confirms, implicitly or explicitly, that the those directing the coalition’s electoral strategy, almost certainly including the PM himself, were well aware of and in fact directed the Minister to rort the grants; that would be a scandal that would once have demanded the government’s resignation. This matter must be pursued until the report is released as this matter has the smell of corruption and incompetence at both the political and public service levels.

  4. Avatar Tony Adams says:

    The Auditor General formed a view that ex Minister McKenzie had taken actions that are at least wrongful and, in the eyes of some, may be illegal. He proceeded to publish these views. If he is correct then the behaviour of the ex Minister is reprehensible at the very least. If he is wrong then he has committed an appalling error for someone in his position. Messrs Gaetjens and Morrison have found him to be wrong; in which case it follows that they must conclude that the A/G is not able to adequately perform his duties. When do you think we can expect Mr Gaetjens, (who has responsibility for the competence of public servants such as the A/G) to sack him? And similarly, I would expect that the ex Minister would pursue the A/g in the courts to seek redress for his improper action and to restore her reputation. If they fail to do these things then perhaps we can conclude that they don’t really believe in the accuracy of the Gaetjens report?

  5. Avatar Jim KABLE says:

    I expect that when “the new liberals” (www.thenewliberals.net.au) come to power that there will be the release of so many reports hitherto kept secret – and matters of the past number of years – to explain why these self- or vested-interest servers should never again by allowed back anywhere near the national levers of government – and “our” tax moneys! (Wave-of-Change Ambassador – tnl)

  6. Avatar Stephen Saunders says:

    If the Statistical Society of Australia could check out the Hehir audit versus the cut-and-paste of Gaetjens, I’m pretty confident the former would win.

    How on earth do you counter Morrison, our Mini Orban? Who openly derides the parliament, the press, and public opinion, and seems to win.

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