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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Excessive secrecy surrounds government business dealings

Lots of drum roll and fanfare yesterday with the announcement that Sydney has been chosen as the regional hub for Virgin Blue, and its new international V Australia will be flying daily between Sydney and Los Angeles. More jobs, more tourists, great benefits to the taxpayer all got a run the when the Prime Minister signed an agreement in Washington, and the NSW Premier proudly announced a Sydney victory over other competitors. Qantas appears the only loser, up to $200 million a year.

But what about cost to the taxpayer? The fine print in this Sydney Morning Herald report is that the concessions promised by the NSW Government, which include relief from payroll tax and other benefits, "remain confidential".

Relief from payroll tax is income foregone by the government. It's no different from a government grant. The rule should be that the public is entitled to know the details of these deals, and whatever cost benefit analysis has been undertaken within government that form the basis for such a decision.

Opaque dealings between government and business are not just limited to NSW, but it has pretty good form in this area. All contracts entered into by the Department of State and Regional Development that involve the provision of industry support are excluded from a requirement in the Freedom of Information Act to publish and make available contracts entered into by state government agencies.

Another example of excessive secrecy of the kind we just don't seem to be able to shake.

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