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Friday, October 27, 2006

Big win for Clover Moore on contract disclosure

In what the Opposition described as a "road to Damascus" conversion, the NSW Government has supported the Freedom of Information (Open Government - Disclosure of Contracts Bill) and the legislation passed through the Legislative Assembly yesterday.

The Bill was introduced on 1 December last year by independent Member for Bligh (and Lord Mayor of Sydney) Clover Moore. Yesterday it re-emerged, Ms Moore accepted some amendments and the Bill passed so quickly that the Opposition (who also supported the legislation) admitted that it had not had time to look at the amendments in detail or to consult any stakeholders affected by them.

The Bill as passed will require agencies to publish on a central government website within 60 days, contracts for more than $5million, and details of other contracts for more than $150.000. Some types of information may be excluded if they come within "commercial in confidence" as defined in the Bill - the contractors financing arrangements, cost structure, profit margins, full base case financial model, intellectual property, matter the disclosure of which would place the contractor at a substantial commercial disadvantage.

There are significant changes to the original Bill. The Member for Bligh obviously thought that concessions were worth making to get the Bill passed. One of these is the exclusion of State Owned Corporations. Ms Moore reluctantly conceded this for the present but expressed her concern and did not receive the public explanation sought as to why they should be excluded.

Another questionable change not noted during debate is the exclusion of contracts entered into by the Department of State and Regional Development that involve the provision of industry support.

Apparently consultations with the Local Government and Shires Association will be held prior to the making of regulations that will apply to the disclosure of local council contracts.

The Bill now goes to the Legislative Council where there may be some amendments but it seems certain to enjoy majority support there.

In a week when the Government has been on the back foot about accountability, and after a year of acknowledgement by the Government that it has been reviewing guidelines concerning disclosure of contracts, this is a surprising but significant and welcome step in the right direction.

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