Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1995 Week 11 Hansard (12 December) . . Page.. 2869 ..
MS FOLLETT (Leader of the Opposition) (12.23): Mr Speaker, Ms Tucker's amendment will be supported by Labor. Indeed, it mirrors an amendment which I had had drafted on this exact topic. One of the greatest difficulties that I have had with the notion of compulsory contract employment for chief executives and the SES, Mr Speaker, has been the secrecy that has surrounded the nature of the contracts that would be made. I have to admit that I believe that that secrecy is totally inappropriate.
At present, Mr Speaker, there is a large level of transparency and accountability in the employment arrangements for chief executives, and that is who we are dealing with here. For instance, their remuneration is set by the Remuneration Tribunal and the determinations made are a matter of public record. Also, Mr Speaker, because they are employed under the Public Sector Management Act or other legislation, their conditions, or the terms on which they are employed, are also available for anybody to scrutinise. The Assembly has taken the decision to move to compulsory contracts; so the nature of the employment basis of those people has changed very markedly, in my view. I no longer regard them as public servants. I now regard them as contractors to the Government.
Mr Speaker, in the case of any other contractor to the Government, the fact of the matter is that this Assembly is able to scrutinise, to a large degree, everything to do with the arrangements. For example, the consultants and contractors are regularly reported in the annual report. Those matters are available for scrutiny by the Estimates Committee. The terms of reference for contractors and consultants can be asked for, and are often asked for.
Mr Speaker, it seems to me that what Mrs Carnell, through her letter to Mr Moore, is offering is a very much lower level of scrutiny. I have not seen the letter yet, and I will be looking at it. From the reading of it by Mr Moore, it seemed to me that there was, clearly, insufficient scrutiny of these contracts available. It is not good enough, Mr Speaker, for this Assembly and the Canberra community to be subject to the behind closed doors decision-making of the Public Service Commissioner, I believe it was, as to these contracts, and/or if the commissioner will not make material available, I believe I heard that we would then be able to move under the FOI Act.
If the Government really wanted to guard the credibility and the reputation of its chief executives, it would be much more interested in a higher level of transparency than that. It seems quite obvious that the Public Service Commissioner could refuse access to a document and then access under FOI would be refused as well. There is absolutely nothing to prevent that from happening. Mr Speaker, we have heard before from this Government that documents were commercial-in-confidence - for instance, the VMO contracts, try as we might. We tried to get individual VMO contracts under the scrutiny of this Assembly. We have asked for other contracts as well, only to be told they were commercial-in-confidence. I have no doubt whatsoever that that is the answer you would get under FOI as well. So, Mr Speaker, I do not think that the provisions outlined in the letter to Mr Moore are adequate.