The Official Information Act 1982 (OIA) provides for information to be protected to the extent consistent with the public interest and the preservation of personal privacy.
“Cabinet material” includes Cabinet and Cabinet committee agendas, papers, and minutes. All Cabinet material is classified official information.
The OIA provides for information to be made available on request unless there is a good reason for withholding it.
There is no blanket protection of Cabinet material from release under the OIA. Cabinet and Cabinet committee records are covered under the OIA in the usual way - irrespective of whether the record is stored and accessed in CabNet. However, papers may include material that it is necessary to withhold to protect one or more of the interests recognised in the OIA. If so, that material should be presented in a way that makes its status clear (e.g. under a heading entitled “Legal Advice”).
Releasing Classified Cabinet material under the OIA
All requests for Cabinet material under the OIA must be considered using the criteria set out in the Act, regardless of the security classification given to the document concerned. For further information about security classifications, refer to the page on the secure handling of Cabinet material.
However, consideration should be given to the security classification/endorsement of the paper when assessing the information for release. While a security classification does not, in itself, provide good reason for withholding a Cabinet paper, a high classification may provide a useful flag to indicate that there may be a good reason to withhold the document under the OIA.
Redactions of Cabinet material
Cabinet material that is released under the OIA may be redacted to protect certain specified information in accordance with the Act. The legislation includes clear guidance on when it is appropriate to delete information from documents or the grounds under which it is appropriate to refuse OIA requests.
Release of Cabinet material from a previous administration
The Leader of the Opposition must be consulted on the release of Cabinet material from a previous government administration. This consultation process is facilitated by the Cabinet Office.
The office of the Minister who holds the portfolio that the previous administration’s material now fits under should contact the Cabinet Office to arrange consultation (e.g. Cabinet material from the Department of Labour that was produced during a Labour administration should be sent to the Cabinet Office by the Office of the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety).
See Chapter 8 of the Cabinet Manual for detailed guidance on the protection and disclosure of Cabinet records and other official information. See the guidance on the proactive release of Cabinet material and the Cabinet Office circular CO (18) 4 - Proactive Release of Cabinet Material: Updated Requirements for more information.