Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1995 Week 11 Hansard (12 December) . . Page.. 2932 ..
MR OSBORNE (continuing):
Mr Speaker, I think the key to this is freedom of information. It is very hard for me not to support this sensible amendment from Ms Tucker, given my intention to completely overhaul the somewhat curiously named Freedom of Information Act. Having spent a great deal of time trying to talk some sense into my colleague Mr Moore, I am pleased to say that I have been able to do that. I have supported Mrs Carnell on this Bill in principle. However, this is one area that needs to be addressed, and I think this amendment has done that.
MS TUCKER (5.55): The Greens are very surprised at the Government's opposition to this amendment, and also at the arguments put forward in defence of their position. The Greens could not agree more with the Chief Minister that Ministers are responsible for the performance of all government actions. Indeed, it was heartening to hear Mrs Carnell reiterate this point.
The nature of agreements between chief executive officers and Ministers, or Senior Executive Service people if they are on contracts, is the key to being able to scrutinise a Minister's performance. The argument that because Ministers are ultimately responsible it follows that contracts should be secret does not make sense. Should this Assembly also expect that, if we ask a consultant to perform a job, then the nature of that agreement can be a secret because the Minister is ultimately responsible; or, if we call for tenders to run a service, the outputs or outcomes that they are being asked to deliver are secret because the Minister is ultimately responsible?
Mr Speaker, Mrs Carnell says she is more concerned about the performance agreements than the financial disclosure. We are concerned about both. We have spoken already about how important performance agreements are and how they must be public. We would also like Mrs Carnell to make a full disclosure about the financial details of agreements reached between the Government and the CEO of the Chief Minister's Department, and any promises that may have been made to the new director of Woden Valley Hospital. The Greens would be more than happy for our most senior bureaucrats to face the same kind of pecuniary interest disclosure as members of this place, but I have yet to see amendments to this Bill that would ensure this. All we have so far is promises.
Events of the past few months have shown us that promises are open to interpretation. All shades of meanings can be found. A word here or a word there can totally change the meaning, depending on who is looking at it - the promiser or the one promised to.
Mr Moore: It is the same with legislation.
MS TUCKER: Mr Moore has shown that he is concerned about this issue and he will be supporting this amendment, which is great. I am pleased to see that. I also thank you, Mr Osborne. This will enshrine in legislation this basic right to know requirement, and that is what this is. We need to have it enshrined in the legislation. I was surprised that Mr Moore was swayed by the argument put at one point by Mr John Walker - that if contracts were made public they would be significantly watered down. This type of cynical approach is quite extraordinary from the chief executive officer of the Chief Minister's Department, who is apparently saying that if this amendment gets up the Government will get around it by doing something else. That is not good enough.