Should be a snap since an amendment to the NSW Freedom of Information Act, promoted by the Independent Member for (and Lord Mayor of) Sydney, Clover Moore, included a new section (15A) requiring information about contracts after 1 January 2007 for $150,000 or more to be published on a central government website, and in the case of contracts in excess of $5 million, (Class 3 contracts), the publication of the contract itself. As mentioned at the time, there are various qualifications, including for commercial confidence information(defined in the section, itself a plus), and others that are questionable ( for State Owned Corporations; industry support grants by the Department of State Development;and information that would attract any exemption in the FOI Act), but it all sounded like a big leap forward from the days of closely guarded secrets like the penalty provisions of the Cross City Tunnel contract.
Well it's turning out to be a a slight shuffle in the right direction rather than what was hoped for at the time.Compliance by government agencies has been patchy, to put it mildly, with some agencies who simply ignore the requirement entirely and others who don't, or for technical reasons can't, post the full or edited provisions of the big dollar contracts. To make matters worse, the designated central website for all this-the Department of Commerce e-tender site- is close to useless as an accountability tool, with limited search capability and an inclination to go haywire, even when you set strict parameters for a search.
Clover Moore recently asked (3347) the Premier in Parliament, on notice:
- How does the NSW Government ensure that agencies comply with requirements of Section 15a of the Freedom of Information Act 1989?
- How many "class 3" contracts between a Government agency and the private sector, as defined by Section 15a of the Freedom of Information Act 1989, became effective since 1 January 2007?
- How many actual "class 3" contracts were available on the tenders.nsw.gov.au website as at Monday 2 June 2008?
- How many of the "class 3" contracts that are not published on tenders.nsw.gov.au between 1 January 2007 and 3 June 2008, are not commercial-in-confidence?
- With regard to "class 3" contracts not available on tenders.nsw.gov.au that are not commercial in confidence:
Why are these contracts not available on the website?
How are these contracts publicly available?
- Since commencement of Section 15a of the Freedom of Information Act 1989 what measures have been taken to update the search function of the tenders.nsw.gov.au site to make it more easy to use by those searching for contract disclosures?
- Is the NSW Government aware of the website managed by the United States of America at www.usaspending.gov, which provides an easy to use method of finding government contract disclosures?
- What assessment has the NSW Government made of updating the tenders.nsw.gov.au site so that it provides similar easy to use searches as the usaspending.gov site?
- What work has the NSW Government done on drafting Regulations for Section 15a of the Freedom of Information Act 1989?
"A Premier's Memorandum (M2007-01) was issued in January 2007 which described the (then) new contract disclosure obligations imposed by section 15A of the Freedom of Information Act (FOI Act). In particular, the Memorandum noted that it is each government agency's responsibility to comply with the new provisions.
A number of class 3 contracts are available on the tenders.nsw.gov.au website. The total number of class 3 contracts which became effective since 1 January 2007, however, is not centrally collected.
The Department of Commerce has conducted a study into possible improvements in the website's search function usability and effectiveness. A redeveloped tenders.nsw.gov.au website, incorporating improvements recommended in the study, is expected to be operational later in 2008.
The Government has sought advice from the Local Government and Shires Association on its view as to whether a regulation should be made to extend the FOI Act's contract disclosure obligations to local authorities. No advice has been received to date."