MICHAEL KEATING. The Gaetjens Report: a footnote

Feb 10, 2020

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.

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