Cabinet Secretary (Australian minister)

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Cabinet Secretary
Coat of Arms of Australia.svg
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
Style The Honourable
Appointer Governor-General on the recommendation of the Prime Minister of Australia
Inaugural holder Senator John Faulkner
Formation 3 December 2007
Final holder Senator Arthur Sinodinos
Abolished 24 January 2017

The Cabinet Secretary was a former title conferred on an Australian minister responsible for assisting the Prime Minister to manage the day-to-day procedural and operational matters of the Cabinet and any Cabinet committees. As per all other ministers in the Westminster system, the Cabinet Secretary was a sitting member of Parliament, chosen by the Prime Minister and officially appointed by the Governor-General. The Cabinet Secretary was a portfolio minister of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and existed at various stages between 2007 and 2017, when the position was abolished.[1][2][3]

The Cabinet Secretary should not be confused with the Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, which is the senior Australian Public Service departmental secretary, or other Cabinet Secretary positions in other Westminster systems. The United Kingdom Minister for the Cabinet Office has similar but not analogous functions as the Australian Cabinet Secretary.


From 1959 to 1968 the duties of the Cabinet Secretary were handed by the Secretary of the Prime Minister's Department. From 1968 to 1971, the Department of the Cabinet Office existed led by the Secretary to the Cabinet, a senior Australian Public Service departmental secretary[3] From 1971 to 1996, the duties of the Cabinet Secretary were handed by the Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

From 1996 to 2007, Prime Minister John Howard appointed a political staffer to the position of Cabinet Secretary, under the Member of Parliament (Staffing) Act 1984, to head the new Cabinet Policy Unit.[4][5] Howard also appointed junior ministerial positions of Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet) to the Prime Minister held by Chris Miles MP and Parliamentary Secretary to the Cabinet held by Senator Bill Heffernan. Howard's Cabinet Secretary practice was resumed by Prime Minister Tony Abbott from 2013 to 2015.

In 2007, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd created the new ministerial position of Cabinet Secretary with Australian Labor Party veteran Senator John Faulkner appointed conjointly as Special Minister of State to drive an integrity agenda.[6] The position was carried over by Prime Minister Julia Gillard from 2010 to 2013 and again by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in 2013.

In 2015, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull resumed the ministerial position of Cabinet Secretary, broadening its responsibilities and including it in Cabinet.

On the 18 January 2017, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced a ministerial reshuffle in which the position of Cabinet Secretary was disbanded and its functions returned to the Prime Minister's Office as per the Howard Government.[7]


Historically, the position has been a junior ministerial portfolio, either of Parliamentary Secretary rank or of the Outer Ministry, held conjointly with another ministerial portfolio such as the Special Minister of State, the Minister for Home Affairs, and the Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change.

The roles and responsibilities of the Cabinet Secretary have varied since 2007 to 2013 and again since 2015, depending on the priorities and agenda of the Prime Minister of the day. Conventionally though, the Cabinet Secretary supports the Prime Minister through overseeing the Cabinet process and providing political and policy coordination when delegated.[8]

Under the Turnbull Government, according to the Cabinet Handbook, through delegations from the Prime Minister, the Cabinet Secretary has the power to:[9]

  • provide authority to ministers to bring items forward for consideration by the Cabinet or a Cabinet Committee;
  • finalise the Cabinet and the Cabinet committee business lists;
  • maintain and enforce the integrity of Cabinet rules and processes, including working with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) to ensure Cabinet submissions are of high quality;
  • authorise Cabinet minutes;
  • approve absences of Cabinet ministers; and
  • deal with practical issues regarding the co-option of non-Cabinet ministers and assistant ministers, and the attendance of officials.

Under the Turnbull Government, the Cabinet Secretary was a full member of the Cabinet and a sits on the National Security Committee, the Expenditure Review Committee, the National Infrastructure Committee, the Innovation and Science Committee, the Indigenous Policy Committee, the Governance Committee, and the Digital Transformation Committee.

Minister Assisting the Cabinet Secretary[edit]

The Assistant Cabinet Secretary, a junior ministerial position, was established by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on the 21 September 20105 to support the work of the Cabinet Secretary. The position was renamed the Minister Assisting the Cabinet Secretary on the 18 February 2016, reflecting the renaming of parliamentary secretary level positions as assistant ministers. The first Assistant Cabinet Secretary and re-titled Minister Assisting the Cabinet Secretary was Scott Ryan, conjointly holding the portfolio of Special Minister of State.

In line with the Cabinet reshuffle on the 18 January 2017 which disbanded the Cabinet Secretary, Scott Ryan was named the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Cabinet whilst continuing as Special Minister of State. On the 13 November 2017, Scott Ryan was appointed the President of the Senate and the position of Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Cabinet was not continued. [1]

PM&C Cabinet Division[edit]

The Cabinet Division (formerly the Cabinet Secretariat and the Cabinet Implementation Unit) of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet provides operational support and procedural advice to the Prime Minister, the Cabinet Secretary, the Minister Assisting the Cabinet Secretary and the chairs of the Cabinet committees. The Cabinet Division is also responsible for the management of the records of successive Cabinets. It maintains the collection of Cabinet documents for the current Government and preserves the Cabinet records of previous Governments. The Cabinet Division is led by a First Assistant Secretary and includes the Cabinet Secretariat and the Strategic Coordination and National Security Branch.

Prime Minister's Office[edit]

With the discontinuation of the ministerial Cabinet Secretary, the position is now an held by an Australian Public Service officer within Prime Minister's Office in support of the Cabinet Division of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

List of Cabinet Secretaries[edit]

The following individuals have been appointed as Cabinet Secretary, with some serving concurrently:

Order Minister Party Prime Minister Joint portfolios Term start Term end Term in office
1 Senator John Faulkner Australian Labor Party Rudd Special Minister of State
Vice-President of the Executive Council
3 December 2007 9 June 2009 1 year, 188 days
2 Senator Joe Ludwig Australian Labor Party Special Minister of State
Manager of Government Business in the Senate
9 June 2009 14 September 2010 1 year, 97 days
3 Mark Dreyfus QC, MP Australian Labor Party Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency
Parliamentary Secretary for Industry and Innovation
14 September 2010 4 February 2013 2 years, 143 days
4 Jason Clare MP Australian Labor Party Minister for Home Affairs
Minister for Justice
12 December 2011 27 June 2013 1 year, 197 days
5 Alan Griffin MP Australian Labor Party Rudd Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister 27 June 2013 18 September 2013 83 days
6 Senator Arthur Sinodinos AO Liberal National Turnbull 21 September 2015 (2015-09-21) 24 January 2017 (2017-01-24) 1 year, 125 days


  1. ^ a b "New federal ministers officially sworn in". Sky News. Australia. AAP. 24 January 2017. Retrieved 24 January 2017.
  2. ^ Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet [1] Cabinet Handbook 9th Edition 2016
  3. ^ a b Coleman, William. (2016). Only in Australia: The History, Politics, and Economics of Australian Exceptionalism. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
  4. ^ Tiernan, Anne. (2008). The Rudd Transition: Continuity and Change in the Structures of Advice and Support to Australian Prime Ministers [2] Senate Occasional Lecture Series 30 May 2008.
  5. ^ Tiernan, Anne. (2006). Australian Journal of Political Science 41(3): 309-324 [3]
  6. ^ Prime Minister Kevin Rudd Joint Press Conference with Senator John Faulkner. (2009) [4] Prime Minister's Transcripts
  7. ^ Prime Minister of Australia Press Release [5] Ministerial Arrangements 19 January 2017
  8. ^ Australian Public Service Commission [6] Learning from Failure: Supporting Decision Making
  9. ^ Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet [7] Cabinet Handbook 9th Edition 2016 CC-BY icon.svg This content is available under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia Licence.