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Morrison cracks down on ministers ‘phoning it in’ with new cabinet rules

Typically, cabinet meetings are conducted weekly at Parliament House in Canberra but are held elsewhere from time to time, particularly in Sydney.

Mr Morrison, a former treasurer, also implemented new procedures for the federal budget that appear to grant him greater control over the process.

The Cabinet Handbook has been updated to better reflect existing policies and processes that have been in place under this government.

A government spokesman

The previous handbook said planning for the May budget typically began in September or October, “when cabinet agrees the timing and operational rules for the budget process”.

Under the new regime, the budget process begins in September, “when the Prime Minister writes to cabinet ministers to establish budget priorities and commission new work”.

Asked if the new rules were about cementing Mr Morrison’s authority within cabinet, a government spokesman said: “No, the Cabinet Handbook has been updated to better reflect existing policies and processes that have been in place under this government.”

Among other changes are slightly more relaxed guidelines about the circumstances in which people other than ministers can attend the highly sensitive meetings of cabinet.

While the previous handbook said ministerial advisers and officials “do not” attend cabinet meetings, the new rules say officials may be co-opted for specific items when necessary.

Previously, attendance at cabinet committee meetings was strictly limited to very senior public servants and ministers’ chiefs-of-staff, but now this is only “generally” the case.

The cabinet is not mentioned in the Australian Constitution and it is not subject to any legislation. Rather, it is “a product of convention and practice” since Federation.

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“Provided the guiding principles of a cabinet system are met – collective responsibility and solidarity – it is for the prime minister of the day to determine the shape, structure and operation of the cabinet,” the handbook states.

The principle of solidarity is set out in a number of rules that strictly bind ministers to support all decisions of cabinet in public once those decisions are collectively made.

The handbook also imposes confidentiality, prohibiting disclosure of cabinet documents, topics discussed in cabinet, what decisions were made and who said what during meetings.

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