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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1995 Week 11 Hansard (12 December) . . Page.. 2870 ..

MS FOLLETT (continuing):

It is my view that the secrecy surrounding these contracts not only does the community and this Assembly out of information which ought to be public, but also brings the whole chief executive status and structure under a level of scrutiny that I do not think they ought to be under. There is a secrecy around all of their employment provisions that I believe is inappropriate.

Mr Speaker, I have said before that I do not believe that people should join the public service or continue in the public service just for the money, and I still hold to those principles. I do commend Ms Tucker's amendment to the Assembly because I think it does inject into this matter an appropriate level of transparency which is not subject to decision-making by any other body except this parliament, and I think that is the way it ought to be.

MR KAINE (12.29): Mr Speaker, the Public Accounts Committee examined this matter and members will recall that I attached a dissenting report to the report that came back to the Assembly. This was one of the three matters with which I noted that I had some sympathy. I quote from my dissenting report:

I am not convinced that details of contracts between public officials and the Government should be confidential. I heard no evidence that would change my opinion. I therefore support, in principle, the content of Part 7 of the Report.

And I do; but I think that what is before us here for consideration today is overkill. When the first draft of the report came to the committee the words "secret" and "secrecy" were scattered through it like pepper and salt. I took exception to that, and the chair of the committee removed them and used the proper words, "confidential" and "confidentiality". I do not believe that there is any attempt at secrecy, but I believe that senior officers of our ACT Government Service are entitled to some degree of confidentiality in terms of their private affairs. What we have here is, I believe, overkill.

Information about the conditions under which senior officers of our public service are employed ought to be available in the public interest, but I think the words that we should keep in mind are "in the public interest". That does not mean that every contract should be published on the front page of the Canberra Times, any more than every other contract let by the Government should appear on the front page of the Canberra Times. There is a certain confidentiality about many contracts that the Government enters into. Many of our commercial contracts for services and for work to be done for the Government have a certain confidentiality about them, and we all recognise and understand that. We accept the term "in confidence". We accept the term "commercial-in-confidence". I think that even in connection with the contracts of private individuals who are employees of the ACT Government there is a sense in which there ought to be an element of protection for them.

I believe that there are other arrangements that could be set up, and I understand that the Chief Minister is prepared to set them up, whereby when somebody has a good reason, in the public interest, to have access to a particular contract they may have it; but it is a very long way from that to publishing every one of them and tabling them on the floor of the house within six days of their being written, and I believe it is more appropriate.

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