Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 14 Hansard (11 December) . . Page.. 4205..
MS DUNDAS (continuing):
The Democrats' most famous political slogan is "keep the bastards honest", and making governments and agencies more accountable to the community is part of our core business. The bill that I present today is the next step in the process of ensuring open governance of the ACT and, I believe, the largest accountability reform since the public access to government contracts legislation was passed two years ago.
Since that time the Democrats have introduced similar measures in the Senate, and as a result all federal government agencies must report on contracts of over $100,000. This reform, whilst considered an administrative burden at the time, is now operating quite successfully. In the New South Wales parliament similar legislation has passed in the upper house and is at this point waiting to be debated in the lower house.
While public access to government contracts was groundbreaking at the time, we must continue to monitor its operation and ensure that the government and its agencies are held accountable.
When the Public Access to Government Contracts Amendment Bill was debated in this chamber, there was much discussion about whether we had got the mix right-allowing commercially confidential documents to remain confidential while allowing the public their right to know where their money goes.
It was Mr Kaine who asked at the time that the bill be looked at in a couple of years to monitor how it was being implemented. This has occurred, and the Auditor-General examined the act and reported in June of this year. The report of the Auditor-General, Operation of the Public Access to Government Contracts Act-report No 2 of 2002-was, to put it simply, quite damning. Its summation was:
The Public Access to Government Contracts Act is not effective and is not being administrated effectively.
The Auditor-General made nine key recommendations in this report, mostly administrative recommendations that needed to be reconciled within the departments, but there were some that required legislative direction. The government has introduced one minor legislative change to try to put the onus on the chief executives of agencies to take some ownership of the implementation of the Public Access to Government Contracts Act.
This was a small step-one of many steps that need to be taken. The bill I present today takes a few more of those steps. In direct response to the Auditor-General's report, it will include the University of Canberra College as a government agency for the purpose of this act. It is quite pertinent to point this out, as the University of Canberra and the university college have been a matter of great discussion in this chamber.
The college is a limited company, wholly owned by the University of Canberra. This means it faces few of the rigours of a public company and none of the rigours of a government agency. This small measure of including it will ensure that contracts of greater than $50,000 face the same scrutiny as those of other government agencies.