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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1995 Week 11 Hansard (12 December) . . Page.. 2867 ..

MS TUCKER (continuing):

Mr Speaker, I urge members to give serious consideration to this amendment, which calls on the Minister or Chief Minister to table the contracts that set out the priorities and performance objectives of the executives or chief executives in question. The rationale for these contracts from the Government is increased accountability and transparency. I do not see how increased transparency can be achieved if these contracts are kept a secret. Open and accountable government means that the actions of our senior managers, who implement many government decisions, must be open and accountable. We are not asking for these contracts to be disallowable, or for individual executives or contracts to be scrutinised prior to finalisation of the details. What we are asking is that, once these contracts are signed and sealed, they be made public.

Members of this place have already expressed concern about the difficulties in specifically defining exactly what we want to produce. I believe that this provides an even stronger case for public scrutiny of these contracts. We were also told by Mr Walker that these contracts might provide details of the subsidies or cross-subsidies that may be involved in producing any given output. Is this not important public information? If we are letting our managers manage, should we not have the details of how they are being asked to manage - not only the specific outputs but also the managerial responsibilities? In the New Zealand public service most contracts are accessible under the Official Information Act, and the purchase agreement between Ministers and a chief executive is available to parliament for scrutiny.

We are also told that part of the contract specification will be to provide frank and fearless advice. Well, let us see. How is the Assembly to judge the performance of an executive if we do not know what they have been contracted to do in the first place? The Government is asking the executives to implement its reforms from the top and is entering into contracts with individual executives to deliver these reforms. Yet, it is saying it will not give us details of the specific tasks that individual executives are being asked to perform. The specific tasks will not necessarily be part of a pro-forma contract, which is likely to be vague. The Assembly must be able to scrutinise individual agreements.

MR MOORE (12.19): Mr Speaker, this is an issue that I must say I have been wrestling with for some time. My mind has been oscillating as to which way I would go. On the surface of it, the proposed amendment put by Ms Tucker appears to me to make good sense.

When I raised the matter with the officers that the Chief Minister made available to me for briefing, the argument that they put was that if individual contracts were publicly available, rather than a contract pro-forma, what would tend to happen is that, rather than the specifics being put in them, they would tend to have much more loose descriptions, so it would be more difficult for people to be held accountable by the Assembly for the contract. In other words, it would be the Assembly holding the public servant accountable rather than holding the Minister accountable. That was the argument put and that has carried quite some weight with me because, in one sense at least, this is inconsistent with the amendment that we have just passed. I say "in one sense" because on this issue I am balanced in a fine way as to how I should go with this decision.

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