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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1995 Week 8 Hansard (26 October) . . Page.. 2068 ..

MS FOLLETT: Mr Speaker, what we have here is, at the very least, the appearance of a conflict of interest which the Government has consistently failed to explain adequately. The tender process itself, I believe, has been open to substantial questioning. The document which invited tenders went to a limited range of this Territory's auctioneers. I believe that it was sent to only seven auctioneers. The document itself was less than robust in its terms. It was a handwritten document that was faxed to a select range of auctioneers which, just by coincidence, included Mr Hird's company. It was a handwritten document which did not specify which goods were to be auctioned, other than to say that they were taxi plates. It did not say how many of them there were; it did not give any indication of what the duties of the auctioneer might be. The document, as we have shown, contained a very clear error, that is, that the reply on the tenders was invited some four days after the scheduled date of the auction. That document, Mr Speaker, brought into question the very genuineness of the Government's desire to hold an open tender process. The document was faulty, Mr Speaker. The document was extremely faulty.

We have also been told by the Minister that the only criterion for deciding this matter was the lowest price tendered. Yet we have consistently had information that there was a lower tender; that one of the auctioneers had offered to conduct the auction at no cost. That is a claim that the Government has not refuted. Mr Speaker, I also believe that in looking at tenders it is extremely unusual, if not an actual breach of purchasing guidelines, for price to be the sole criterion. I recall similar occasions when there were other criteria besides price, when acknowledged reputation, for instance, was one criterion and the quality of the goods that would be provided was another criterion. I find it extraordinary that, in the Minister's words, the only criterion here was price. On those grounds the auction could have been conducted by almost anybody. That was the excuse that the Government used in order to allow Mr Hird's company to have the contract.

Mr Speaker, we have not had a total explanation of the involvement of either the Minister or his office. In answers to questions early on in this matter, the Minister said that he had got on the phone to check out whether it was all right to give the tender to Harold Hird. The Minister said that himself. In question time yesterday he backed down from that and thought it might have been a DLO or somebody on his staff. Mr Speaker, there is a clear conflict in the evidence that has been provided by the Minister on this matter. Again it raises questions about the whole probity of this incident.

Mr Speaker, I believe that the Auditor-General has, in effect, upped the ante on the Government in taking it upon himself not just to do what the Chief Minister asked him to do, which was to look at devising guidelines for these kinds of occasions. The Auditor-General has said that he will review the matter which is actually under debate. He had not been asked to do that, despite the fact again that Mr De Domenico had intimated in question time that the Auditor-General had been asked to do that. It is the Auditor-General who has upped the ante, who has taken on that additional task - and well he might. Whilst the Government might continue to say that there is no substance to these allegations, that everything was above board, it is clearly a matter which the Auditor-General feels is worthy of investigation. I support him in that task.

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