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Community cabinets in Australia

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Parliament of Australia Department of Parliamentary Services


Introduction ....................................................................................................................................... 1

Background ........................................................................................................................................ 1

The Queensland initiative ................................................................................................................... 3

The Commonwealth experience ......................................................................................................... 6

Locations and attendance .............................................................................................................. 7

Format and content ....................................................................................................................... 9

Costs ........................................................................................................................................... 11

Other state/territory community cabinets ........................................................................................ 13

Victoria ........................................................................................................................................ 13

South Australia ............................................................................................................................ 14

Northern Territory ....................................................................................................................... 14

Western Australia ........................................................................................................................ 15

New South Wales ........................................................................................................................ 16

Tasmania ..................................................................................................................................... 16

Australian Capital Territory .......................................................................................................... 17

Effectiveness .................................................................................................................................... 18

Conclusion ........................................................................................................................................ 20

Appendix 1—Commonwealth community cabinet meetings by federal electoral division, showing margins on a two-party preferred basis (January 2008-June 2012) .................................. 21

BACKGROUND NOTE 22 August 2012

Community cabinets in Australia

Dr Joy McCann Politics and Public Administration Section

Community cabinets in Australia



Community cabinets were introduced by the Beattie Labor Government in Queensland in 1998 as a mechanism for encouraging greater community engagement with the processes of policymaking. Whilst similar approaches have been introduced in other countries to encourage more direct dialogue between governments and citizens, the community cabinet model appears to be an Australian phenomenon, having been embraced by the Commonwealth Government and most of the state and territory governments.1

This Background Note outlines the background, context, approach and activities of community cabinets in Australia within the context of recent research on community engagement in policymaking. It begins with an explanation of the community cabinet concept and its development in Queensland, and examines how the model has been applied at the Commonwealth level, including information about the location, format, content and cost of meetings. The paper then considers approaches adopted by the respective state and territory governments, and concludes with a selection of views that have been expressed about the effectiveness of community cabinets as a means of engaging citizens in government policymaking.


Cabinet is the central decision-making body of executive government in Australia’s system of representative government. Whilst the cabinet is not recognised in the Constitution, and its decisions are not legally-binding, all Australian governments since Federation have adopted the system of cabinet government. The cabinet comprises senior ministers of the Crown who are collectively responsible to the people, through the parliament, for determining and implementing government policies.2 Members of the Commonwealth Government’s cabinet are selected by the prime minister, who chairs the meetings and has the discretion to adopt the organisation or system they wish, subject to the Ministers of State Act 1952. In 1954, Prime Minister Robert Menzies introduced a two-tier system comprising an ‘inner’ cabinet of selected senior ministers with portfolios and an ‘outer’ cabinet or ministry. The two-tier system has been adopted by all subsequent Commonwealth Governments with the exception of the Whitlam Government between 1972 and 1975. 3 At the state and territory level, the premier or chief minister is responsible for the management of their respective cabinets.

Whilst community cabinets involve cabinet ministers they are, in most other respects, quite unlike formal meetings of cabinet. Formal cabinet meetings are a closed forum where ministers debate the broader ramifications of government policy decisions whilst community cabinets are deliberately open, aiming at improving community awareness of government policies and processes and inviting

1. For example, see the Greater London Authority’s People’s Question Time , viewed 13 August 2012, 2. IC Harris, ed, House of Representatives practice, fifth edition, Department of the House of Representatives, Canberra, 2005, p. 47. 3. Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Cabinet handbook, 7th edition, March 2012, viewed 3 July 2012,

Community cabinets in Australia


public feedback on the local implications of policy decisions. Formal meetings of cabinet operate in accordance with the convention of cabinet confidentiality—all cabinet documents, discussions and decisions are strictly confidential in order to provide for open and frank discussion amongst ministers.4 Community cabinets, meanwhile, involve public forums for which transcripts are prepared and made publicly-accessible via the internet.

Internationally, the United Nations (UN) has argued that national governments should proactively engage their citizens in developing policy in order to address ongoing problems of social exclusion. Whilst noting that civic engagement is ‘resource-costly, and may be threatening to administrators who fear loss of control of the policy process, the UN’s World public sector report 2008 stated that it contributes to empowering citizens and ‘strengthening trust in government itself’. 5 This trend has been described elsewhere as a shift from ‘government’ to ‘governance’, and features more streamlined government activity, devolution of government business away from a centralised model, and ‘a blurring of the demarcation between state and civil society’, enabling citizens to have greater influence over policies that impact on their lives.6 In practice, progress has been slow in achieving mainstream citizen participation in policy development, with greater success occurring in those countries that already have a strong tradition of devolved governance.7

In Australia, the concept of community engagement in government activities was first raised in the 1976 Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration chaired by HC Coombs. The Commission promoted the idea that governments ought to give citizens ‘a greater sense of being in touch with the decision-makers’, and led to a ‘wave of reform’ in the early 1980s drawing in particular on private sector management practices. 8 By the mid-1990s the idea of civic engagement, also known as participatory governance, was a central concern in Australian public sector reforms. According to political scientists Patrick Bishop and Glyn Davis ‘more and better participation in policy making has become a standard expectation of citizens in liberal democracies’ such as Australia.9 International research suggests that such citizens are not only less inclined to trust governments and public sector institutions, but are also generally better educated and wanting to articulate their views. The World Values Survey, for example, found that between 1983 and 1995 confidence in the

4. P Weller, Cabinet government in Australia, 1901-2006: practice, principles, performance, UNSW Press, Sydney, 2007, p. 10. 5. G Bertucci, Preface in ‘People matter: Civic engagement in public governance’, World public sector report 2008, United Nations, New York, 2008, p. 5, viewed 13 June 2012, 6. P Oliver, M Hellmuth and T Liebrecht, ‘The engaged government project: learning when, where and how to engage both inside and outside the government tent’, n.d., viewed 13 June 2012, 7. B Holmes, Citizen’s engagement in policymaking and the design of public services, Research paper no. 1, 2011-2,

Parliamentary Library, 22 July 2011, viewed 13 June 2012, p01 8. HC Coombs, Report of the Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration, AGPS, Canberra, 1976 cited

in Ibid.

9. P Bishop and G Davis, ‘Mapping public participation on policy choices’, Australian Journal of Public Administration, vol. 51, no. 1, March 2002, p. 14.

Community cabinets in Australia


institution of parliament in Australia had declined by 25 per cent. The level of discontent was particularly evident in the late 1990s with the rise in support for Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party, reflecting a ‘heightened cynicism of the political process and of the major parties’. 10

As a result of these trends, Australian governments have been experimenting with a range of participatory governance mechanisms, designed to give citizens greater access to the processes of government, and more meaningful engagement with the policymakers themselves.11 In general, the choice of mechanism has been influenced by the political environment, prevailing trends in citizen engagement practices, and the extent to which governments themselves have been willing to embrace the idea of participatory governance.

The Queensland initiative

The population of Queensland is dispersed over a wide geographical area, serviced by a number of large regional centres. Since the mid-1990s, successive Queensland state governments have implemented regionalised policy initiatives designed to increase government accountability and provide opportunities for more direct engagement with local communities. In 1996, for example, the Borbidge Coalition Government introduced strategies aimed at co-ordinating the government’s political, policy and administrative activities in the state’s regions, including a program of cabinet meetings in regional areas.12

The 1998 Queensland state election resulted in a close win by a minority Labor government led by Peter Beattie. Beattie negotiated an agreement with Independent MP, Peter Wellington, who demanded a more participatory style of government in return for his support in the Queensland Parliament. The success of the One Nation political party in the election reflected a growing discontent amongst rural voters, revealing a populist distrust of governments and a belief that politicians were not listening to their concerns. A survey of voter behaviour at the 1998 Queensland and Commonwealth elections confirmed a clear pattern of ‘voter disillusionment, despair and alienation accompanying socio-economic disadvantage’, which correlated geographically with support for the One Nation Party. 13

The incoming Beattie Government undertook to re-engage disaffected citizens by being more responsive in policy development and program delivery, introducing a range of regionally-focused initiatives including the Community Renewal Program, Cape York Partnerships, Ministerial Regional

10. G Williams and G Chin, ‘Australian experiments with community initiated referendum CIR for the ACT?’, Griffith Law Review, vol. 7, no. 2, 1998, p. 274. 11. M Edwards, Participatory governance, Issues paper series no. 6, University of Canberra, Canberra, March 2008, pp. 1-2, viewed 3 July 2012, 12. A Thompson, T Reddel, G Woolcock, B Muirhead, A Jones, ‘Your place or mine?’ Evaluation of the Brisbane Place

Project, The University of Queensland, Final report, February 2003, p. 24, viewed 6 June 2012, 13. R Davis and R Stimson, ‘Disillusionment and disenchantment at the fringe’, People and Place, vol. 6, no. 3, pp. 69-80, cited in ibid., p. 25.

Community cabinets in Australia


Community Forums and the community cabinet initiative.14 Academics at the University of Queensland noted the growing momentum in public policy for ‘a more spatial and community sensitive policy agenda’, combined with a growing political focus on the problem of economic and social disadvantage in rural and regional areas. The Queensland community cabinet process, they observed, had been developed with the aim of ‘rebuilding the relationship of executive government with local communities based on notions of social capital and “government by discussion”’.15

The first of the Beattie-led community cabinets was held in Mulgrave, a southern Cairns suburb in Far North Queensland. Subsequent meetings were conducted in regional centres across Queensland including Longreach, Bundaberg, Rockhampton, Townsville, Nambour, Toowoomba, and Currumbin, as well as in Brisbane. They were, according to Premier Beattie, ‘designed to bridge the gap between the Government and the people’. 16 According to political scientist, Patrick Bishop, Premier Beattie drew on a model first used in Queensland in the 1950s, modifying the structure and committing considerably greater resources.17

The community cabinets followed a standard format involving a mixture of formal and informal gatherings conducted monthly. Each community cabinet commenced with a three-part meeting on a Sunday, to which members of the public were invited. The emphasis was on creating an informal atmosphere. The first part typically comprised an informal public forum, led by the premier, where participants could question cabinet ministers about matters of government policy and how these affected them and their local communities. The forum was followed by separate meetings with ministers and their staff, enabling anyone attending the forum to personally lodge a complaint, make a comment, or seek information. The final session provided for formal deputations to meet relevant ministers, requiring an advance booking and written submission to enable ministerial staff to assess the matters to be discussed and provide their minister with a briefing if required. The premier would then chair the normal ‘closed’ meeting of cabinet on the Monday morning, followed by meetings with any outstanding deputations and an informal lunch with members of the community. After the event, participants received follow-up letters relating to issues raised, as well as a newsletter outlining the key issues discussed generally during the public forum. 18

The community cabinet model has become a feature of the Queensland political landscape, with meetings held almost continuously since 1998 by successive state governments. A survey of community cabinet participants in Queensland conducted in 1999, for example, indicated ‘a high level of satisfaction with the process, especially the opportunity to discuss issues with ministers and

14. P Bishop, ‘(net) Working the electorate’, Griffith Review, Edition 3: Webs of power, March 2005, viewed 12 June 2012, 15. Thompson et al, Your place or mine?, op. cit. 16. Cited in T Reddel and G Woolcock, ‘From consultation to participatory governance? A critical review of citizen

engagement strategies in Queensland’, Australian Journal of Public Administration, vol. 63, no. 3, September 2004, p. 77. 17. Ibid.

18. Ibid., p. 77-9; C Lewis and D Marsh, ‘Network governance and public participation in policy-making: federal community cabinets in Australia’, Australian Journal of Public Administration, vol. 71, no. 1, 2012, p. 7; Bishop, (net) Working the electorate, op. cit.

Community cabinets in Australia


officials. Participants also reported an improved understanding of government decision-making processes', and felt that they had been ‘heard and listened to’ even if they did not get the results they were seeking. A close observer of the Queensland experiment, Glyn Davis, concluded that the community cabinet model was ‘only one modest mechanism for citizen engagement’. 19

Anna Bligh, who replaced Peter Beattie as Queensland Premier in September 2007, continued to conduct monthly community cabinet. Between 1998 and March 2012, the state government conducted over 130 community cabinets.20 In a similar vein, the Bligh Government also introduced People’s Question Time, with nine sessions held between February 2010 and December 2011. Unlike traditional community forums, the Question Time enabled people to discuss issues online with a live panel, and aimed ‘to give community members the chance to put their questions directly to the Premier and other panellists on topical Queensland issues’.21 Following the election of the Liberal National Party in March 2012, Premier Campbell Newman held his first community cabinet meeting on 1-2 July 2012, with all 19 members of the cabinet travelling to Townsville. He noted the ‘long-standing tradition’ of Monday Cabinet meetings in Brisbane, and stated that ‘[i]f it’s good enough for Brisbane then it’s good enough for Townsville.’ 22 As with previous community cabinets, the proposed format included ministers being available, by appointment, for one-on-one meetings with individuals and organisations.

The Queensland Parliament has also established a program of regional sittings, aiming to conduct one sitting in a regional area every term (three years) to ‘improve people’s understanding of parliamentary, government and constitutional issues’. 23 The first regional sitting, held in Townsville in September 2002, was the first sitting of the Queensland Parliament to be held outside of Brisbane in the institution’s 142-year history. It was conducted in accordance with the usual parliamentary procedures, apart from a later start for the Wednesday session to enable people to attend Question Time in the evening.24 Since that time, sittings have been held in Central Queensland (Rockhampton, 6 October 2005), Far North Queensland (Cairns, 28-30 October 2008) and Mackay (24-26 May 2011). 25

19. G Davis, ‘Government by discussion’, in Botsman and Latham, The enabling state, op. cit., p. 226-7. 20. Reddel and Woolcock, op. cit., p. 79. 21. ‘Queensland Launches ‘people’s question time’, Sydney Morning Herald, 19 February 2010, viewed 13 August 2012,;

Queensland Government, Department of the Premier and Cabinet, Community engagement, viewed 24 July 2012,; Queensland Department of the Premier and Cabinet, People’s Question Time archive, viewed 14 August 2012, 22. A Templeton, ‘City first to host new community cabinet’, Townsville Bulletin, 6 June 2012, viewed 6 June 2012, 23. Queensland Parliament, The Queensland Parliament’s Community Engagement Services, viewed 6 June 2012, 24. Queensland Parliament, North Queensland, viewed 6 June 2012,

involved/regional-parliament/Townsville-2002 25. Queensland Parliament, Regional Parliament, viewed 6 June 2012,

Community cabinets in Australia


The Commonwealth experience

The concept of cabinet government was established by the new Commonwealth Government in 1901. Traditionally, the Commonwealth cabinet has met in the Cabinet Room of Parliament House on Mondays, although the practice of holding cabinet meetings outside of the national capital has a long history. In the past, ministers of successive governments have travelled to interstate locations— especially Sydney and Melbourne—for cabinet meetings usually conducted in association with other meetings and events. In 2001, for example, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPM&C) noted that the Howard Government had conducted 66 meetings of cabinet or cabinet committees outside of Canberra in the previous year, ‘[i]n keeping with the practice of previous governments’. 26 As the following table indicates, nearly one-fifth (19.8 per cent) of all cabinet meetings (excluding cabinet committees) during the past decade have been held interstate.

Table 1: Commonwealth Government cabinet meetings, 2001-2011


Total cabinet meetings (excluding committees) No. held interstate

2001-02 27 14

2002-03 32 6

2003-04 30 4

2004-05 26 2

2005-06 26 2

2006-07 33 6

2007-08 30 8

2008-09 44 9

2009-10 41 13

2010-11 40 1

TOTAL 329 65

Source: DPM&C, Annual Reports 2001-02 to 2010-11

The idea of conducting federal community cabinets was first raised by the federal Australian Labor Party’s Opposition Leader, Mark Latham during the 2004 Commonwealth election campaign. The ALP was constructing its campaign around the issue of ‘the loss of public trust and confidence in the political system’. Latham, an advocate of ‘Third Way’ politics27, argued that loss of public trust was the ‘number one issue facing our democracy’. 28 Drawing on the Queensland model, Latham

26. Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Annual Report 2000-01, Canberra, 2002, p. 87, viewed 18 June 2012, 27. ‘Third Way’ refers to a political strategy designed to reinvigorate Left-wing politics in response to globalisation by combining social justice with free market economics. It was popularised in Anthony Giddens’ book,The third way: the

renewal of social democracy, Polity Press, Cambridge, 1998 and embraced by the British Labour Government led by Tony Blair and US President Bill Clinton. See T Blair, The Third Way: New politics for the new century, The Fabian Society, London, 1998, and WJ Clinton, State of the Union address, January 1998. 28. M Latham, ‘The new politics’, ALP News Statements, 19 March 2004, cited in A Lavelle, ‘Labor under Mark Latham: “new politics”, old dilemmas’, paper presented to the Australasian Political Studies Association Conference,

Community cabinets in Australia


proposed conducting face-to-face meetings between cabinet ministers and people in local communities. In his address to the Queensland ALP State Conference in June 2004, Latham suggested that being ‘on the ground, out among the people’ was the best way to engage a disillusioned electorate. He claimed that the community cabinet model ‘pioneered’ by the Queensland Premier, Peter Beattie, offered individuals in the community a chance to talk directly with their elected representatives about the ‘problems we need to solve as a nation, the challenges we face as Australians’. 29

The ALP’s first major policy statement of the election campaign was presented as a ‘blueprint’ for parliamentary reform. It included a strategy for improved government accountability and ministerial behaviour. In launching the statement, Latham announced that a Labor government would conduct community cabinets to ensure that ‘the Australian people have face-to-face contact with the people who make the decisions’. He had been influenced by the experience of his own ‘town-hall meeting’ tour, an experience he described as ‘democracy in the raw’. 30 The community cabinet initiative was implemented after the 2007 election when the incoming ALP government, led by Kevin Rudd, introduced a process closely based on the Queensland model. It fulfilled an election commitment to hold community cabinet meetings across Australia with the aim, according to Prime Minister Rudd, of helping ‘the general community to discuss matters of importance to them with senior members of the Government’. Community cabinets, he stated, would prevent the nation’s capital from becoming ‘detached from what’s going on out on the ground’. 31

Whilst the community cabinet approach does not appear to have been adopted outside Australia, similar initiatives have been introduced in some countries with the aim of engaging citizens more directly in policymaking. The Mayor of London, for example, hosts a People’s Question Time event to ‘open City Hall and the Mayorality up to scrutiny by the people of London’. 32

Locations and attendance

The first Commonwealth community cabinet forum was held in Canning Vale, Perth on 20 January 2008. Newspaper advertisements invited those interested to register for a possible meeting with a minister, allowing for six 10-minute sessions to be conducted with each minister over the allotted

University of Adelaide, 29 September-1 October 2004, p. 12, viewed 31 May 2012,; see also P Botsman and M Latham, eds, The enabling state: people before bureaucracy, Pluto Press, Sydney, 2001. 29. M Latham, ‘Mark Latham—speech to the Queensland ALP state conference’, ALP News Statements, 12 June 2004,


30. M Cole, ‘Latham to mark public’s words: MPs will have to lift game’, Courier Mail, 1 September 2004, p. 5, viewed 31 May 2012,;query=Id%3A%22media%2Fpressclp%2FH3MD6%22; M Latham, Budget reply speech, ALP News Statements, 13 May 2004, cited in Lavelle, Labor under Mark Latham, op. cit., p. 16. 31. Prime Minister Rudd, cited in J Wright, ‘The people’s cabinet no more’, Sun Herald, 27 February 2011, p. 4. 32. B Johnson cited in ‘Mayor listens to Londoners at People’s Question Time in Brixton’, GTCIT Magazine, viewed

14 August 2012,

Community cabinets in Australia


hour.33 During the public forum, participants raised local, national and international issues ranging from cane toads in Western Australia to Japanese whaling activities in the Southern Ocean. Ministers then held over 70 one-on-one meetings. Political journalist, Michelle Grattan, observed that those who sought interviews ranged from individuals wanting to discuss policies affecting their families, to the chairman of a group of eight universities seeking a meeting with the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research to discuss research policy. 34

In the period between the 2007 and 2010 Commonwealth elections, the government conducted 24 community cabinets involving nearly 11 000 citizens. Six meetings were held in New South Wales, four each in Western Australia and Queensland, three each in Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania, and one in the Northern Territory. Meetings were held scheduled on a monthly basis, and all available cabinet ministers were expected to attend or to have a compelling reason for non-attendance. 35 In February 2010, Senator Ludwig reported to the Finance and Public Administration Committee that around 9 000 people had attended the 20 forums, and ministers had participated in 1 176 one-on-one meetings with individuals and groups. 36 According to political scientist Anne Tiernan, the community cabinet meetings were ‘reasonably well received’, although they posed a ‘significant logistical challenge for a bureaucracy unaccustomed to such intense community engagement’. 37

Prime Minister Julia Gillard continued the community cabinet initiative after assuming office on 24 June 2010. She hosted her first community cabinet forum on 2 December 2010 in Clontarf, north of Brisbane.38 In the two years between June 2010 and June 2012, the Gillard Government conducted a total of nine community cabinets—two each in Queensland and Victoria, and one each in Western Australia, South Australia, the Northern Territory, Tasmania and New South Wales. In total, there were 33 community cabinets conducted since the program commenced in January 2008. Of these, 13 (or 39.4 per cent) were held in electorates where the government received less than 56 per cent

33. Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, ‘Canning Vale Community Cabinet Meeting’, 25 March 2008, viewed 7 June 2012,; ‘Community cabinets a worthwhile exercise’, The Age, 22 January 2008, p. 12. 34. M Grattan, ‘Have a whack, PM invites as curious meet the cabinet’, The Age, 21 January 2008, p. 4. 35. Senate Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee, Estimates, 8 February 2010, p. 108, viewed 19 June

2012,;query=Id%3A%22committees%2Festimate%2F12745 %2F0008%22 36. Senate Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee, Additional Estimates, 8 February 2010, pp. 105-16,

viewed 19 June 2012,;query=Id%3A%22committees%2Festimate%2F12745 %2F0008%22 37. A Tiernan, The Rudd transition: continuity and change in the structures of advice and support to Australian prime

ministers, Senate Occasional Lecture Series, 30 May 2008, viewed 26 June 2012, 38. Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Community cabinet website, viewed 15 June 2012,

Community cabinets in Australia


of the two-party preferred vote at the previous election (see Appendix 1 for a list of Commonwealth community cabinet meetings by date and federal electoral division).39

Table 2: Commonwealth community cabinet attendance, 2008-2011

N/A = not available


No. of meetings No. of registered attendees

No. of questions in public forum No. of one-on-one meetings with ministers

2007-8 4 2 300 N/A 300

2008-9 9 4 223 115 534

2009-10 11 4 211 154 580

2010-11 4 1 300 15 42

July-December 2011 3 930 N/A 127

TOTAL 31 12 964 N/A 1 583

Sources: DPM&C Annual Reports 2007-8 to 2010-11; DPM&C Community cabinet meetings40

Format and content

The format adopted by the Rudd Government was similar to that developed by the state government in Queensland. Community cabinet meetings are usually held at a state school or community hall. Forthcoming community cabinets are advertised in local newspapers and people are invited to register as wanting to attend, either by calling a 1800 number or registering online. Those who also wish to have a one-on-one meeting with an individual minister are asked to identify the issues that they would like to raise with that minister, to enable the minister to be briefed by their department beforehand. The numbers who attend each meeting vary (see Table 2 above). When people arrive on the day of the public forum, their names are checked against a list of pre-registrations and they are asked to produce photographic identification. Those arriving without pre-registering are accommodated if there is sufficient room in the venue. Information provided by meeting applicants is subject to security checks by the Australian Federal Police and security agencies.41 The Community Cabinet Unit of DPM&C administers the program.

39. Australian Electoral Commission, Elections, viewed 18 June 2012, 40. Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Annual Report 2007-8, Canberra, 2008, p. 54, viewed 18 June 2012, 2008-09, Commonwealth of Australia, 2008, p. 82, viewed 18 June 2012,; 2009-10, p. 79, viewed 18 June 2012,; 2010-11, p. 64, viewed 18 June 2012,; DPM&C, Previous community cabinet meetings, viewed 19 June 2012, 41. Senate Finance and Public Administration Committee, Estimates, 20 October 2008, pp. 94-5, viewed 19 June 2012,;query=Id%3A%22committees%2Festimate%2F11349 %2F0005%22

Community cabinets in Australia


Under Prime Minister Rudd, each community cabinet began with an hour-long public forum hosted by the Prime Minister, who fielded questions from the audience and referred them where necessary to relevant ministers who sat along a table on either side of the Prime Minister. This was followed by individual 10-minute meetings between ministers and individuals or groups (of up to five people), arranged in advance so that the relevant department could provide their minister with a brief on the topic to be discussed. Members of the media could attend the public forum, but were not allowed to have one-on-one meetings with ministers.42 The usual closed meeting of cabinet ministers was conducted after the community cabinet.

A similar process was adopted by the Gillard Government after the change of leadership in June 2010. Prime Minister Gillard determines the date and locations of community cabinet meetings, which are advertised in the local media three to four weeks before each meeting and are usually held on a Wednesday evening. The Prime Minister also determines which ministers attend, based on the location and nature of local issues in the electorate. Currently, each community cabinet session has three parts:

• ministerial meetings (60 minutes) where each attending minister conducts up to five 10-minute

meetings with individuals or small groups

• a community reception (30 minutes)

• a public forum (45-60 minutes) involving participants directing questions to the Prime Minister

and the attending ministry. 43

The Cabinet Secretary, appointed by the Prime Minister to manage the program for cabinet and cabinet committee meetings, ensures that the community cabinet secretariat follows up on issues raised at community cabinets. The secretariat is also responsible for maintaining a database to record and summarise information on attendees, issues raised, post-event enquiries, and outcomes across whole-of-government, as well as preparing a quarterly report analysing information gathered from each meeting. 44 The DPM&C website contains an online archive of public forum transcripts produced for each community cabinet. 45 Each public forum is also videoed and the videos are available for online public viewing. Topics raised by participants at the public forums have varied widely, but tend to focus on the practical implications of implementing government policies at the local level. Communication specialist James Mahoney analysed the topics raised during the 24 community cabinets conducted between the 2007 and 2010 federal elections. His research indicates that:

[n]o single issue dominated questions raised by participants. While Prime Minister Rudd dealt with matters he saw as important to the Government’s agenda, like climate change, the

42. DPM&C, Annual Report 2008-09, op. cit., p. 82 43. Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, What is Community Cabinet?, viewed 7 June 2012,

44. Lewis and Marsh, Network governance, op. cit., p. 8; DPM&C, Cabinet handbook, op. cit., p. 11. 45. DPM&C, Previous community cabinet meetings, viewed 19 June 2012,

Community cabinets in Australia


education revolution, the global economic crisis, importantly, issues raised by community members were focused on practical matters and often on local implications of policy, including cost. 46


In 2008-9, the Rudd Government committed $10.9 million over five years, ‘to help the general community to discuss matters of importance to them with senior members of the government’, as follows:

Table 3: Commonwealth Government’s five-year budget commitment for community cabinets

Financial year $m

2007-08 1.2

2008-09 2.4

2009-10 2.4

2010-11 2.4

2011-12 2.5

Source: Australian Government Budget paper no. 2, Budget measures 2008-0947

In 2009, the government committed an additional $608 000 for administering the program, and $435 000 to develop additional engagement strategies. 48 According to information presented by DPM&C officials at a Senate Estimates hearing in February 2009, the costs for the first twelve months of the initiative totalled nearly $2 million including travel costs for ministers, advisers and public servants, and an additional $500 000 in running costs. 49 These costs are borne by DPM&C, the Department of Finance and Deregulation, and by relevant departments. DPM&C is responsible for costs associated with administering the community cabinet process. Of the 13 meetings conducted between 2008 and 2012 for which administrative costs are publicly available, the average cost to the department for each meeting was $67 325 (see Table 3 below).

46. J Mahoney, ‘Strategic communication: making sense of issues management’, Record of the Communications Policy and Research Forum 2010, Network Insight Institute, viewed 15 June 2012,

47. Australian Government, Budget paper no. 2, Budget measures 2008-09, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, viewed 25 June 2012, Note: The paper cited $10.8 million over five years, but the figures as indicated above totalled $10.9 million. 48. Senate Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee, Answers to Questions on Notice, Department of

the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Supplementary Budget Estimates, 19 October 2009, Question no. PM9(a-b), viewed 19 June 2012, 10/pmc/index.htm 49. Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration, Estimates (Additional Budget Estimates), 23

February 2009, p. 95, viewed 19 June 2012,;query=Id%3A%22committees%2Festimate%2F11641 %2F0005%22

Community cabinets in Australia


Table 4: Administrative costs for Commonwealth community cabinets, January 2008-June 2012

N/A = not available

No Date Location State/territory Cost ($)

1. 20.01.2008 Canning Vale WA 78 012

2. 02.03.2008 Narangba Qld 64 892

3. 15.04.2008 Penrith NSW 33 377

4. 29.06.2008 Mackay Qld 54 170

5. 26.07.2008 Yirrkala NT 74 895

6. 14.08.2008 Hallett Cove SA 45 608

7. 29.09.2008 Newcastle NSW N/A

8. 05.11.2008 Launceston Tas N/A

9. 07.12.2008 Corio Vic N/A

10. 17.02.2009 Campbelltown NSW N/A

11. 22.04.2009 Ballajura WA N/A

12. 19.05.2009 Emerald Vic N/A

13. 30.06.2009 Beenleigh Qld N/A

14. 28.07.2009 Elizabeth SA 79 000

15. 25.08.2009 Port Macquarie NSW 67 271

16. 01.10.2009 Geraldton WA 110 772

17. 13.10.2009 Hobart Tas 63 078

18. 09.11.2009 Bathurst NSW 66 921

19. 08.12.2009 Townsville Qld 70 077

20. 20.01.2010 Adelaide SA 67 150

21. 18.02.2010 Ballarat Vic N/A

22. 15.04.2010 Epping NSW N/A

23. 19.05.2010 Burnie Tas N/A

24. 09.06.2010 Perth WA N/A

25. 02.12.2010 Redcliffe Peninsula Qld N/A

26. 30.03.2011 Fremantle WA N/A

27. 19.05.2011 Modbury Heights SA N/A

28. 29.06.2011 Palmerston NT N/A

29. 01.09.2011 Yeronga Qld N/A

30. 03.10.2011 Kingston Tas N/A

31. 09.11.2011 Werribee Vic N/A

32. 04.04.2012 Parramatta NSW N/A

33. 16.05.2012 Berwick Vic N/A

Source: Senate Finance and Public Administration Committee, Estimates, 200850

50. Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration, Estimates (Supplementary Budget Estimates), 20 October 2008, Canberra, p. 96,;query=Id%3A%22committees%2Festimate%2F11349 %2F0005%22; Senate Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee, Estimates, 8 February 2010,

Community cabinets in Australia


Expenses incurred by ministers, ministerial staff and departmental staff required to attend community cabinets are administered by the Department of Finance and Deregulation or by relevant departments as necessary.51 These costs include airfares and travelling allowances, but do not include taxi travel and travel on Special Purpose Aircraft administered by the Department of Defence. In addition to the community cabinet meetings, formal cabinet and cabinet committee meetings may also be scheduled so as to maximise the availability of ministers for their regular work commitments.52 Ministers may also conduct other official business immediately before or after community cabinets, although any associated expenses are not disaggregated from community cabinet costs. Travel costs for departmental staff required to attend community cabinets are borne by their respective departments.

The total costs relating to the attendance of ministers, ministerial staff, and departmental staff are not available as a discrete, aggregated total. However, information is publicly available for those departments that have reported their costs in response to Questions on Notice from Senate Estimates hearings. For example, the Health and Ageing portfolio indicated that the estimated cost for ministers and ministerial staff to travel to the four community cabinet meetings held between 2 December 2010 and 29 June 2011 was $24 378, and the departmental staff travel cost for the same meetings as $9 256.53

Other state/territory community cabinets

Since the Queensland initiative, all states and territories have introduced some form of community cabinet or regional cabinet meeting program. The following provides a brief overview of approaches adopted in each jurisdiction.


Following the success of the Queensland initiative, Victoria’s Labor Government led by Steve Bracks introduced the community cabinet model in 1999 ‘as a way to bridge the gap between government and communities’.54 Between 2003 and 2009, the state government conducted 46 meetings in

Canberra, p. 108,;query=Id%3A%22committees%2Festimate%2F12745 %2F0008%22 51. Community cabinet meetings, Questions in writing, House of Representatives Debates, 13 May 2008, viewed 27 June 2012,;fileType=application%2Fpdf 52. Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Annual Report 2010-11, Canberra, 2011, viewed 22 June 2012, 53. Senate Community Affairs Committee, Answers to estimates Questions on Notice, Health and Ageing portfolio, Budget estimates 2011-12, 30-1 May 2011, Question no. E11-388, viewed 19 June 2012, 2/DoHA/index.htm 54. The Premier of Victoria, ‘Community cabinet to visit southern and northern Grampians Shires’, Archived website, 14 April 2008, viewed 25 June 2012,

Community cabinets in Australia


localities across metropolitan and regional Victoria.55 After the Victorian state election on 27 November 2010, the incoming Liberal Government led by Ted Ballieu continued the community cabinet process, conducting its first regional sitting of cabinet and associated community meetings in the South West Coast region in September 2011. 56 In a similar vein, the Victorian Government also initiated regional sittings of the State Parliament in 2001, becoming the first legislature in Australia to sit outside of a capital city. 57

South Australia

Community cabinets were introduced in South Australia by the Labor Government led by Mike Rann in 2002. 58 By 2004, Premier Rann considered the meetings in country regions to be such a success that he was urging the state parliament to also conduct sittings in regional areas.59 According to the Department of the Premier and Cabinet’s 2004-05 Annual Report, community cabinets allowed ministers ‘to work with the local communities and receive first hand feedback about issues, problems and challenges that affect them’, and for organisations and businesses to directly raise issues of concern. 60 The Rann Government conducted at least 23 community cabinets in metropolitan and regional areas across the state in the five years between 2004 and 2009. 61 No community cabinets have been held since the change of premiership from Rann to Jay Wetherill in October 2011, although some formal cabinet meetings have been conducted in regional localities.62

Northern Territory

A form of community cabinet was introduced in the Northern Territory in 2002 by the Territory’s Labor Government led by Clare Martin. According to Chief Minister Martin, they represented the Government’s commitment ‘to give more Territorians direct access to Ministers and senior

55. Premier of Victoria, Community cabinet archive, viewed 25 June 2012, 56. Department of Premier and Cabinet, DPC Corporate Plan 2011-2014, viewed 26 June 2012,; ‘Cabinet visits in

SW Victoria’, Ibid., viewed 26 June 2012, 57. Regional sittings, Information sheet no. 15, Parliament of Victoria, viewed 26 June 2012, At various times, most of the

other state and territory jurisdictions have conducted regional sittings of parliament. 58. ‘Kerin warns of cuts by ‘razor gang’, The Recorder, 9 May 2003, viewed 26 June 2012,;

Mike Rann - community cabinet, video viewed 26 June 2012, 59. ‘Community cabinet to extend regional visits’, 17 August 2004, ABC News, viewed 26 June 2012, 60. South Australian Government, Department of the Premier and Cabinet, Annual Report 2004-05, 2005, p. 26, viewed

25 June 2012, 61. South Australian Department of the Premier and Cabinet, Annual Reports, 2004-2005 to 2009-2010, viewed 25 June 2012, No data available for meetings prior to 2004, nor for 2007-08 or 2010-11. 62. South Australian Government Cabinet Office, pers. comm., 24 July 2012.

Community cabinets in Australia


bureaucrats.’63 She also described it as the government’s attempt to ‘break down the Berrimah Line’, an imaginary line created by residents of the Northern Territory to demarcate Darwin from all towns south of the capital city.64 The first community cabinet was conducted in Nhulunbuy on 11-12 February 2002. Between 2002 and 2007, the government had conducted 40 community cabinets across the Territory.65 Each community cabinet commenced on a Sunday with ministers meeting local business and community groups, followed by a community forum and one-one-one meetings with individual ministers and their agency heads. Unlike the more formal question and answer sessions typical of other community cabinet forums, the Northern Territory model emphasised an informal atmosphere for discussion with ministers. On the Monday following a community cabinet, the Chief Minister would generally conduct a formal ‘closed’ meeting of cabinet.

The program was continued after a change of leadership from Clare Martin to Paul Henderson in November 2007. In 2007-08, for example, community cabinets were conducted in Jilkminggan, Mataranka, Katherine, Pine Creek and Alice Springs, and a community cabinet meeting was held with the Palmerston Regional Business Association. 66 During this period, the community cabinet program underwent a change of format and was renamed ‘Regional Cabinet Visits’, with the formal cabinet meeting being held in Darwin rather than in the region. The program is not currently active, with the most recent visit being held in November 2010. 67 In March 2011, the Northern Territory Government introduced a similar program of community engagement forums designed to promote the Government’s new strategic plan for the Territory and to ‘give Territorians the chance to provide feedback direct to the Parliamentary Secretary’. 68

Western Australia

The Western Australian state government has maintained a program of regional cabinet meetings from at least 2006.69 Whilst not described as community cabinets, the program aims ‘to ensure communities outside Perth, the capital city, have the opportunity to participate in discussions on local issues with the Premier and Ministers’. Each visit comprises a formal cabinet meeting, and ‘may include formal and informal community consultations, often tied in with major announcements

63. C Martin, ‘Taking government to the community’, Northern Territory Government media release, 8 February 2002, viewed 27 June 2012, 64. C Martin, ‘Alice Springs community cabinet’, Northern Territory Government media release, 11 March 2002, viewed

27 June 2012, 65. Northern Territory Government, Department of the Chief Minister, Community cabinet press releases, viewed 27 June 2012,

1410/ 66. Northern Territory Government, Department of the Chief Minister, Annual Report 2007-08, p. 46, viewed 24 July 2012, 67. J Nicholson, NT Department of the Chief Minister, pers. comm., 24 July 2012. 68. Parliamentary Secretary to Territory 2030, Territory 2030, viewed 24 July 2012, 69. Published data about meetings prior to this date has not been located.

Community cabinets in Australia


affecting the individual region or the wider State’. 70 In October 2009, for example, the cabinet held its formal meeting in association with the first regional sitting of the State Parliament in Bunbury. On the previous day ministers had also met with members of the local community which, according to the Premier Colin Barnett, ‘gave the people of Bunbury and of the south-west the opportunity to speak face-to-face with ministers in private on issues that they wanted to raise’. 71 In the five years between 2006 and 2011, successive Labor and Liberal state governments conducted a total of 21 cabinet meetings in regional localities across the state. 72

New South Wales

Community cabinets were introduced by the New South Wales Labor government led by Morris Iemma in 2007, and continued under his Labor successors Premier Nathan Rees (5 September 2008 to 4 December 2009) and Premier Kristina Keneally (4 December 2009 to 28 March 2011). As in other jurisdictions, the NSW state government also conducted closed meetings of cabinet in regional areas, with local media events and meetings arranged to capitalise on the visit. In September 2007, for example, the Campbelltown Advertiser reported that Premier Iemma and all NSW government ministers met in Picton for a special cabinet meeting. Whilst the meeting was not open to the public, members of the community were able to request one-on-one meetings with the ministers if they were in the locality.73 After winning government on 28 March 2011, the Coalition Government led by Premier Barry O’Farrell committed to regular community cabinets, conducting eight in 2011 and four in 2012 (as at 30 June 2012).74


The Tasmanian Government conducts ‘community forums’, which are based on the community cabinet model. They were introduced in 2008 by the Tasmanian Labor Government led by David Bartlett, commencing with a public forum on 13 July 2008 at Smithton. Lara Giddings replaced David Bartlett as Tasmanian Premier on 24 January 2011 and continued with the practice of conducting community forums, reiterating her commitment to them at the most recent forum held in Oatlands

70. Department of the Premier and Cabinet, Regional cabinet program, viewed 27 June 2012, 71. Premier Colin Barnett speaking at a media conference, 19 October 2009, viewed 9 July 2012, 72. Western Australian Department of Premier and Cabinet Annual Reports 2006/2007, 2007/2008, 2008/2009,

2009/2010, 2010/2011, viewed 27 June 2012, 73. ‘Cashed-up cabinet’, Campbelltown Macarthur Advertiser, 26 September 2007, viewed 25 June 2012, 74. NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet, Community cabinet meetings, viewed 22 June 2012,

Community cabinets in Australia


on 28 November 2011. 75 Between 2008 and the end of 2011, the Tasmanian Government conducted a total of 27 community forums.76

Australian Capital Territory

The ACT Chief Minister, Katy Gallagher, announced her vision for open government in June 2011 and indicated that her government was experimenting with new ways to engage people to make government more accessible. These included trialling a virtual community cabinet using the social networking service, Twitter. 77 She hosted the first virtual community cabinet on 26 July 2011, attracting around 200 online participants and 450 tweets during the hour-long discussion with the ACT’s four ministers.78 According to the Chief Minister, ‘it’s just another way of opening up…the mystery of government processes to a larger group of people’. 79 Public response was ‘overwhelmingly positive’, although the medium meant that responses had to be limited to 140 characters.80 Social media expert, Julie Posetti, noted that the ‘brevity and speed of questions’ demand that the ministers respond with greater speed and clarity than in other types of media. She concluded that the online forum was ‘a more meaningful kind of exercise in political communication than television news sound bites’, and suggested that such forms of unmediated social media may encourage more people to engage in political conversations. 81

The government regarded the experiment as a success, and the Chief Minister invited members of the public to suggest other formats and topics for future online social media events.82 The government’s official virtual community cabinet website enables participants to track discussion as well as follow-up responses from departments. 83 By 30 June 2012, the ACT cabinet had conducted four virtual community cabinets, as well as a virtual ‘youth cabinet’ with college students in Canberra using video-conferencing technology.84

75. ‘Community forums important: Giddings’, The Examiner, 28 November 2011, viewed 3 July 2012, 76. Premier of Tasmania website, viewed 27 June 2012, 77. Chief Minister outlines vision for open government, op. cit. 78. A fifth minister was appointed in November 2011. 79. K Gallagher cited in D Cronin, ‘Our pollies sent all a-Twitter’, The Canberra Times, 30 July 2011, p. 4, viewed 24 July

2012,;query=Id%3A%22media%2Fpressclp%2F960258%22 80. Ibid.

81. J Posetti, ‘A new way to engage? Obama’s “Twitter townhall” comes to Australia’, The Conversation, 28 July 2011, viewed 26 July 2012, Twitter uses text-based posts limited to 140 characters. 82. C Thomler, ‘Outcomes from ACT virtual community cabinet’, 27 July 2011, viewed 26 June 2012, 83. ACT Government, @ACTVCC on Twitter, viewed 26 June 2012,!/ACTVCC 84. N Towell, ‘ACT cabinet Twitters away to community, virtually’, Canberra Times, 29 November 2011, p. 12, viewed 26 June 2012,;query=Id%3A%22media%2Fpressclp%2F1262915%22 ; P Jean, ‘Gallagher talks to college students in “youth cabinet”’, Canberra Times, 3 April 2012, p. 4, viewed 26 June

Community cabinets in Australia



Opinions vary about the effectiveness of community cabinets as a means of engaging local communities in government policy-making. The following views are drawn from media articles, academic reports and survey results published since the community cabinet model was first introduced in 1998. They reflect the range of opinions and highlight some of the benefits and risks of the community cabinet process.

Political scientist Patrick Bishop, commenting on the Queensland community cabinet model, noted the benefits of offering citizens unusually direct, relevant, and unmediated access to the government and its bureaucracy, as well as providing governments with a useful ‘barometer’ of community sentiment and concerns about the local consequences of policy decisions. Whilst the Queensland forums tended to focus on local politics and issues rather than national policymaking, the political benefits they deliver to the state government could not be underestimated. According to Bishop’s analysis, community cabinets also provide a response to populist discontent by attracting attention back to the processes of government, allowing citizens to experience first-hand the diversity of views and the complexity of policy decision-making. ‘If the community sees ministers “at

work” more often, their legitimacy is enhanced’, suggesting that the main benefit of community cabinets has been to ‘build political capital’. 85

Views about the effectiveness of the Commonwealth’s community cabinet process reflect the type of measure that commentators have used to assess the process. In their study of citizen-centred policymaking under the Rudd Government, academics David Marsh, Chris Lewis and Paul Fawcett reviewed specific policy debates about housing affordability and disability services within the context of community cabinets. They concluded that the government largely used the forums ‘as a means of legitimising or promoting decisions that had already been taken’, and forum discussions had made little difference to policy decision-making.86 According to political scientist, Judith Brett, whilst community cabinets have worked well at the state and territory level where policy debates are generally about local issues, Commonwealth community cabinets have been more of ‘a symbol of the government getting out of Canberra’. 87

The Commonwealth’s community cabinets have generally attracted considerable attention from local media. Meanwhile, national media commentary has been relatively scarce, and increasingly critical of the costs involved, and the fact that fewer meetings have been held and fewer senior

2012,;query=Id%3A%22media%2Fpressclp%2F1542213%22 85. Bishop, (net) Working the electorate, op. cit. 86. D Marsh, C Lewis, and P Fawcett, ‘Citizen-centred policy making under Rudd: Network governance in the shadow of hierarchy?’, in C Aulich and M Evans, eds, The Rudd Government: Australian Commonwealth Administration 2007- 2010, ANU E Press, 2010, viewed 26 June 2012,; C Lewis, ‘Community cabinets: a vehicle to promote government policy’, Online Opinion, 6 August 2010, viewed 24 July 2012, 87. J Brett, ‘The nation reviewed’, The Monthly, June 2008, p. 12.

Community cabinets in Australia


ministers in attendance when compared with the early stages of the program.88 Communication specialist, James Mahoney, acknowledges that the Commonwealth Government runs the risk that its messages about national policies may be of less interest to local communities. However, he argues that the interpersonal communication approach is still the most effective vehicle for engaging voters on matters that concern them. 89 He cites the presence of political leaders at town hall-style meetings and live-to-air programs such as the ABC television’s Q and A in the lead-up to the 2010 Commonwealth election as evidence that voters are seeking ‘honest conversations’ with politicians and ‘better solutions’ to policy issues. 90 The Senate also regularly scrutinises the Commonwealth’s community cabinet program through its Estimates committee hearings. Questions have largely focused on the government’s administration of the program, including the rationale for selecting meeting locations, the process for informing Senators and Members about meetings, and the resources involved in operating the program (see above discussion on Costs).

It is less clear how citizens themselves have responded to community cabinets at the Commonwealth and state/territory levels. Few reports have been published detailing participant experiences, although the administering department generally makes videos and transcripts of forums available for viewing. One survey undertaken in Queensland in 1999 indicated ‘a high level of satisfaction’ with that state’s initiative, especially the opportunity it provided for citizens to personally meet and discuss issues with ministers and officials. Participants also reported an improved understanding of government decision-making processes, and felt that they had been ‘heard and listened to’ even if they did not necessarily get the answers they were seeking.91 Political scientist, Glyn Davis, observed that the participants surveyed tended to have higher “social capital”’ than many Australians, meaning that they were more likely to be already involved in community activities and more informed about political affairs.92 Public responses to the ACT Government’s trial of a virtual community cabinet model were ‘overwhelmingly positive’, and social media commentators applauded the government’s experiment, describing it as a valuable medium for those who are unable or unwilling to participate in a public meeting. According to academic Will Grant, Twitter ‘lowers barriers to participation’ and allows politicians to ‘showcase their personality and share their ideas’ although, as public policy expert Peter Chen noted, many Twitter users are

88. See, for example, Editorial, ‘Community cabinets a worthwhile exercise’, The Age, 22 January 2008, p. 12, viewed 24 July 2012,;query=Id%3A%22media%2Fpressclp%2FWFGP6%22; C Kerr, ‘Community cabinet meetings start to look risky for Rudd’, Weekend Australian, 16 January 2010, p. 8, viewed 24 July 2012,;query=Id%3A%22media%2Fpressclp%2FUONV6%22; L Tingle, ‘So much for community cabinet’, Australian Financial Review, 30 June 2011, p. 3, viewed 24 July 2012,;query=Id%3A%22media%2Fpressclp%2F880681%22; S Maiden, ‘Ministers can’t be bothered turning up to meet the public’, Sunday Telegraph, 15 April 2012, p. 16, viewed 24 July 2012,;query=Id%3A%22media%2Fpressclp%2F1566700%22 89. Mahoney, ‘Community cabinets could be the cure’, op. cit. 90. Mahoney, ‘Strategic communication’, op. cit., p. 177. 91. P Bishop and J Chalmers, ‘A response to populism: community cabinets in Queensland’, conference paper presented

to the 1999 Australasian Political Science Association Conference, viewed 26 June 2012, 92. G Davis, ‘Government by discussion’, in Botsman and Latham, The enabling state, op. cit., p. 226-7.

Community cabinets in Australia


already involved in politics and he considered that this approach is unlikely to ‘create a new constituency’. 93


Community cabinets represent one example of a broader sweep of community engagement initiatives introduced by Australian governments since the 1990s as a means of addressing declining community trust in governments, opening up the policymaking process to greater scrutiny, discussing policies directly with voters, and demonstrating a willingness to listen to community views. The community cabinet idea has been adopted at various times and in different formats by most Australian governments as a mechanism for enabling citizens to meet cabinet ministers face-to-face to discuss matters of policy in an unmediated forum within their local region. 94 Whilst opinions vary about how effective community cabinets have been as a mechanism for meaningful community engagement in government policymaking, the longevity of programs in some jurisdictions, and the willingness of others to experiment with different formats, suggests that it remains a valid form of participatory governance for governments and for those citizens who choose to participate.

93. Cited in Cronin, ‘Our pollies sent all a-Twitter’, op. cit., p. 5. 94. J Mahoney, ‘Community cabinets could be the cure for Gillard’s communication conundrum’, The Conversation, 5 April 2012, viewed 15 June 2012,

Community cabinets in Australia


Appendix 1—Commonwealth community cabinet meetings by federal electoral division, showing margins on a two-party preferred basis (January 2008-June 2012)95

*G = Government seat; NG = Non-government seat; Bold = marginal seat (<6 per cent at last Commonwealth election)

No Date Location

State/ territory Division Party Margin*

1. 20.01.2008 Canning Vale WA Tangney Liberal +8.68 NG

2. 02.03.2008 Narangba Qld Longman



+3.57 G +2.05 G

3. 15.04.2008 Penrith NSW Lindsay ALP +6.78 G

4. 29.06.2008 Mackay Qld Dawson ALP +3.21 G

5. 26.07.2008 Yirrkala NT Lingiari ALP +3.99 G

6. 14.08.2008 Hallett Cove SA Kingston ALP +4.42 G

7. 29.09.2008 Newcastle NSW Newcastle ALP +15.91 G

8. 05.11.2008 Launceston Tas Bass ALP +1.00 G

9. 07.12.2008 Corio Vic Corio ALP +8.93 G

10. 17.02.2009 Campbelltown NSW Macarthur Liberal +0.72 NG

11. 22.04.2009 Ballajura WA Cowan Liberal +1.71 NG

12. 19.05.2009 Emerald Vic Casey

La Trobe

Liberal Liberal

+5.93 NG +0.51 NG

13. 30.06.2009 Beenleigh Qld Forde ALP +2.91 G

14. 28.07.2009 Elizabeth SA Wakefield ALP +6.59 G

15. 25.08.2009 Port Macquarie NSW Lynne Nationals +8.58 NG

16. 01.10.2009 Geraldton WA O’Connor Liberal +16.55 NG

17. 13.10.2009 Hobart Tas Denison ALP +15.63 G

18. 09.11.2009 Bathurst NSW Calare Nationals -1.52 NG

19. 08.12.2009 Townsville Qld Herbert Liberal +0.21 NG

20. 20.01.2010 Adelaide SA Adelaide ALP +8.53 G

21. 18.02.2010 Ballarat Vic Ballarat ALP +8.15 G

22. 15.04.2010 Epping NSW Bennelong ALP +1.40 G

23. 19.05.2010 Burnie Tas Braddon ALP +1.44 G

24. 09.06.2010 Perth WA Curtin


Liberal ALP

+13.57 NG +8.85 G

25. 02.12.2010 Redcliffe


Qld Petrie ALP +2.51 G

26. 30.03.2011 Fremantle WA Fremantle ALP +5.70 G

27. 19.05.2011 Modbury Heights SA Makin ALP +12.20 G

95. Two-party preferred refers to the number of votes received by the ALP and Coalition candidates after a full distribution of preferences. Where a winning candidate receives less than 56% of the two party preferred vote, the seat is classified as 'marginal'. Anything more than an absolute majority (50% + 1 votes) is the swing required for the seat to change hands. AEC, Elections—frequently asked questions, op. cit.

Community cabinets in Australia


No Date Location

State/ territory Division Party Margin*

28. 29.06.2011 Palmerston NT Solomon CLP (NT) +1.75 NG

29. 01.09.2011 Yeronga Qld Moreton ALP +1.13 G

30. 03.10.2011 Kingston Tas Denison



+1.21 (NG) 96 +10.82 G

31. 09.11.2011 Werribee Vic Lalor ALP +22.15 G

32. 04.04.2012 Parramatta NSW Parramatta ALP +4.37 G

33. 16.05.2012 Berwick Vic La Trobe ALP +0.91 G

Sources: DPM&C website,; DPM&C Annual Reports; Australian Electoral Commission,; AEC, Two party preferred by division, Election 2007, Virtual Tally Room, viewed 18 June 2012,; AEC, Two party preferred by division, Election 2010, Virtual Tally Room, viewed 18 June 2012,

96. Following election, the winning Independent candidate guaranteed support for a Labor minority government on supply and no confidence motions.

Community cabinets in Australia


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