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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Committee recommends full disclosure of contracts

The NSW Parliament’s Committee of Inquiry into the Cross City Tunnel has released the report on the second phase of its terms of reference.

Transparency and disclosure issues get a good run (see 4.72).

The Committee was told that the NSW Chamber of Commerce supports full disclosure of contracts and that this has been a requirement for some time for all Victorian Government contracts over $100,000. The Deputy Secretary of the Victorian Department of Treasury and Finance said that full disclosure was “not initially popular with the private sector but that attitudes changed over time….some of those that opposed such transparency of information are now supporting it. They are saying that for good debate and outcomes that information must be there. They have probably realised that historically they have been too sensitive about what they think is commercial-in-confidence”.

I’m not sure what apoplexy all this might cause in the private sector in NSW where consultation with business interests during the course of processing FOI applications has often given rise to the perception that the time of day is commercial in confidence. Public sector decision makers have often been persuaded by these views.

So its interesting to see Committee recommendation 8, that after a contract has been concluded documents to be publicly released for any Public Private Partnership or Privately Financed Project should include:
• the full contract and any material variations
• a contract summary (verified for accuracy by the Auditor General)
• details of the public interest evaluation conducted prior to the decision to enter into the PPP or PFP
• a summary of the Public Sector Comparator and the comparison between it
and the successful project (verified for accuracy by the Auditor General)
• the base case financial model
• the Public Sector Comparator.

That, notwithstanding the above paragraph, an independent body, such as the Auditor General, be authorised to assess the question of whether elements of any of the above documents be considered commercial in confidence, on the request of the parties to the contract.

That the NSW Government take proactive steps to ensure that the public are made aware that these documents are publicly available.
The Government has until November to respond to the Committee’s recommendations. The report says the Treasury is working on revised guidelines.

Meanwhile the Freedom of Information Amendment (Disclosure of Contracts) Bill introduced by Independent Member for Bligh, Clover Moore, (and the same Bill sponsored by Upper House Member Arthur Chesterfield-Evans) sits on the Notice Paper but no debate so far. The Bill relates more broadly to contracts and is not limited to PPPs.

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