Authority to proactively release Cabinet material
Cabinet papers and minutes may be released proactively with the approval of the relevant portfolio minister.
Proactive release is different from release under the Official Information Act 1982 (OIA), in that it is the decision of the Minister to release the Cabinet material in the interests of transparency, as opposed to a document requested for release. However, a Minister may decide that it’s appropriate to proactively release Cabinet material following a request made under the OIA.
Ministers have the authority to approve the proactive release of Cabinet material (final versions of papers and minutes) within their portfolios. It is generally expected that Cabinet material on significant policy decisions will be released proactively once decisions have been taken, most often through publication online. Where possible, papers and their relevant minutes should be proactively released together to ensure context for readers.
This authority only applies to the Cabinet material of the current administration.
Proactive release statement in Cabinet papers
It should be stated in the Cabinet paper under the ‘publicity’ section whether or not the Minister intends to proactively release the paper. This applies to all Cabinet papers, except for those on Ministerial overseas travel, appointments, and legislation (draft Bills and regulations). There is no need to include a recommendation about proactive release in the recommendations of the paper.
Readying Cabinet material for proactive release
The following should be considered before approving Cabinet material for proactive release:
- the application of the principles in the OIA, the Privacy Act 1993, and the Protective Security Requirements to the information
- whether the material contains any information that would have been withheld if the information had been requested under the OIA
- whether the documents contain any information that must be withheld under the terms of any other legislation; and
- whether publication on the web is the best means of release.
It is the publisher’s responsibility to make sure that only the final versions of Cabinet material are proactively released. Once the decision is made to proactively release Cabinet material, the security classification should also be reviewed, as it may no longer apply.
Electronic copies of Cabinet material can be downloaded from CabNet for the purposes of proactive release. The watermark on these copies should be retained. The Cabinet Office summary of the paper, which exists as a separate document on CabNet, should not be proactively released as this is a summary of the information already in the paper.
The final version of a Cabinet paper is the version approved by the Minister for lodgement in CabNet, and which has been considered by a Cabinet committee and Cabinet.
The final version of a Cabinet or Cabinet committee minute is the version published by the Cabinet Office on CabNet. Cabinet committee minutes should not be released until they have been confirmed by Cabinet in the Report of Committee minute.
If an agency does not have records of older minutes (i.e. Cabinet material pre-August 2015, or material which is not in CabNet), then the Cabinet Office can provide electronic copies.
Redactions and due diligence
Cabinet material for proactive release is subject to any redactions that may be appropriate under the OIA. The OIA requires that the reasons for refusing a request are provided, so it is good practice to state the reasons for any redactions on the published document.
Proactive release of Cabinet material is not covered by the OIA, and therefore, section 48 of the Act, which protects agencies from civil or criminal sanctions when releasing official information in good faith, is not applicable.
Agencies should undertake due diligence processes to consider any potential liability, civil or criminal, that might result from the proactive release of official information or as a consequence of publication before the Minister’s decision to proactively release Cabinet material.