Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2000 Week 3 Hansard (7 March) . . Page.. 564..
MR HARGREAVES: Thank you, Mr Speaker, and thank you members. Like my chairman, Mr Osborne, I draw members' attention to the report, particularly in regard to the Financial Management Amendment Bill 2000 and the Government Contracts Confidentiality Bill. There is some conflict being raised by the legal adviser to the committee which I draw to the attention of the drafters. It centres on the right to property.
Mr Speaker, we all know that it is the desire of most people in this chamber that the machinations of government be as transparent as possible. When commitments are entered into between the Government or its instrument, the Public Service - and a fine body of men and women they are - and they incur significant costs to the taxpayer, those particular arrangements should be open for everybody to see. The way in which government contracts were revealed was through the Government being dragged, kicking and screaming, through the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. That is not what we want to see. Both of these pieces of legislation, as I understand them, stem from the same motive, which is to stop that process and allow for scrutiny.
The legal adviser pointed out that we need to be a little careful about this. On page 3 of the committee's report he refers to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Rights, Article 17, and I quote:
Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.
What he is referring to there is the possibility that a corporation or an individual may own intellectual property, shall we say, upon which the whole success of their trading enterprise depends, and they would be deprived of that property if certain parts of contracts need to be revealed. We need to be sure that we weigh up the rights to transparency against the potential loss of property for these people.
I acknowledge that in my view, and I think in the view of this side of the house, the transparency of government ought to be paramount. When I was looking at this I could see that there was a bit of a difficulty. I personally do not have a difficulty. I would always opt for the transparency of government, full-stop. I point out that some of the provisions in both of these pieces of legislation stem from the same beginning and address one of the biggest concerns that I had when we were looking into the prison system in Victoria.
The Victorian Auditor-General did a report into the prison system. He reported to the Victorian Parliament that he had the power to look at any document entered into by the Public Service or the Government, but he did not have the power to advise the parliament of the contents of those contracts. We had a situation where there was a government contract with Group 4 to run the prison at Laverton, Port Phillip. This prison had encountered 13 deaths in 18 months. The Auditor-General was able to see elements in a contract which may have contributed to that but was prevented by legislation to enlighten the parliament. The authority of the parliament was not as paramount as it should be, even though I was assured by our learned and soon to be departing secretary of the scrutiny of Bills committee.