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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

NSW Government contracts: spin or full disclosure?

The NSW Parliamentary inquiry into the Cross City Tunnel is continuing. Professor David Richmond who heads the Premier’s infrastructure office, told the Committee on Monday that his December report on “Review of Future Provision of Motorways in NSW” had never recommended that all documents relating to public-private partnerships be disclosed.

Today’s Sydney Morning Herald editorial “Let the public see the full deal” acknowleges some ambiguity in the report and questions exactly what the Premier committed the Government to in terms of contract disclosures when he accepted Professor Richmond’s recommendations. The editorial says that while “some confidentiality may be justified before a deal is struck”, after the event, the public has a right to know what it’s government has agreed to, including profit calculations.
“The practical consequences of keeping the public in the dark can be seen in the policy and planning mess that is the Cross City Tunnel, where the operator’s interests were allowed to override the public interest in a deal devised in secret. It is time the Iemma Government and its acolytes leant that lesson, and worked for all the people or NSW to further the cause of open government”.
Our earlier blogs have commented on the Freedom of Information Amendment (Open Government – Disclosure of Contracts) Bill tabled by the Independent Member for Bligh last December but still to be debated in Parliament.

Professor Richmond in his testimony referred to “NSW Treasury’s draft guideline on public release of information on tenders and contracts with the private sector”. Something new in the wind?

Experience shows however that “guidelines” don’t necessarily work as the Auditor General demonstrated last year when he showed that only 4 of 20 government agencies complied with the Premier’s guideline regarding disclosure of specified contract information on the web.

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