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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 12 Hansard (12 November) . . Page.. 3463..

Public Access to Government Contracts Amendment Bill 2002

Debate resumed from 26 September 2002, on motion by Mr Quinlan .

That this bill be agreed to in principle.

MR HUMPHRIES (Leader of the Opposition) (4.52): Mr Speaker, the bill before the house will amend the Public Access to Government Contracts Act 2000-legislation supported pretty unanimously by the Fourth Assembly-in response to the report from the Finance and Public Administration Committee.

The report recommended that two actions be taken. The first was that chief executive officers be required to implement measures to ensure compliance with the act. The second was that the act specify the nature of the reporting requirements indicating compliance with the provisions of the act.

Following the committee report, on 3 June this year the Auditor-General reported that in his view the act was not effective and was not being administered effectively. He had a number of concerns about the operation of the legislation, including concerns about lack of clarity about the requirements of confidentiality clauses, the fact that there was no requirement for agencies to disclose the existence of contracts and a lack of compliance provisions.

The government's bill appears to satisfy the requirement of ensuring compliance with the act. In such, in general terms, the opposition will support this bill. The approach of the bill is for the chief executive officers of administrative units or territory instrumentalities to be required to report to the Auditor-General on any contracts for the preceding six months that have a confidentiality clause or that have no such clause. As such, the bill provides a mechanism to provide for some measure of accountability. We support that.

We note, however, that the periods of time provided for could create some difficulties with the application of the act. The act is predicated on a six-month reporting period beginning on 22nd December and 22 June each year. I see that as a somewhat strange reporting requirement. I am not quite sure why it is structured in that way as opposed to, say, 1 January and 1 July. Perhaps the Treasurer could explain that when he closes the debate.

That aside, Mr Speaker, the bill has the support of the Liberal opposition.

MS TUCKER (4.55): The Public Access to Government Contracts legislation was developed in 2000 in response to concerns that had arisen in the last Assembly that much information about government deals with private organisations was being hidden by the use of commercial-in-confidence clauses in government contracts. Mr Moore, Mr Osborne and the Labor Party developed bills to address that issue, and the legislation that ensued incorporated ideas from mainly the Moore and Osborne bills.

The legislation sought to define when confidentiality clauses could be used in government contracts and to require government contracts to be publicly accessible except where the confidentiality clauses were legitimately used.

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