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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1996 Week 8 Hansard (27 June) . . Page.. 2354 ..

MS TUCKER (continuing):

a public health authority to enter into secret deals, and it certainly should not be the case that commercial considerations are given precedence over issues that are probably fundamental to the health of ACT residents. We need to make sure, if we are going to enter into these sorts of arrangements, that we have very clear openness and accountability within the Bill.

MRS CARNELL (Chief Minister and Minister for Health and Community Care) (6.06): Mr Speaker, we will be opposing this amendment, not because of not wanting to be accountable but because it is in the interests of consistency right across the ACT Government. The approach that we have taken to joint ventures, under the previous Government as well, has been that joint ventures have been totally accessible to the Auditor-General and to any member of this Assembly who chooses to ask to have a look at them. It has been agreed or perceived, and I think appropriately so in the past, that these are commercial arrangements entered into by government entities. Tabling them could, as I think the previous Government argued on many occasions, cause commercial problems for the service. When we argued on many occasions about the joint land ventures, the joint land deals, the previous Government made it very clear that they did not believe that tabling those joint venture arrangements was appropriate. By doing so you could cause the Territory a problem, a financial problem. Tabling information could allow a competitor a particular advantage or could provide commercial information that may be of disadvantage to the community.

If a Minister makes a decision of this ilk the Minister is responsible for that decision, Mr Speaker. The Minister, under a Westminster system, is totally responsible. No Minister is going to decide not to table something easily, because it is something that the Auditor-General will inevitably know about. You are not going to be able to hide it, and, as a Minister, you are going to have to have very good reasons for not doing it. From that perspective it would seem to me to have the potential to be a very real problem to the health service and, more importantly, to the Territory if we adopt this approach.

I think the argument that Ms Follett has run in the past on this is that it could mean that entities will no longer be willing to enter into joint ventures with the ACT Government because their internal financial details could easily end up on the table in the ACT Assembly, and they may feel that that was an invasion of their privacy. I think that is the sort of line I have heard from those opposite in the past, and it is a line that we have always agreed with them on. In opposition we never required that the details of joint ventures be tabled in the Assembly.

Again, a Minister is responsible. If a Minister makes a decision along these lines it can be made only, as this says, if it is going to adversely affect the commercial interests of the service. The Minister is going to have to have jolly good reasons to not go ahead and table this sort of information. I am confident that the Auditor-General will make sure that those reasons are valid, and it will be brought to the notice of the Assembly if they are not valid. In the interests of consistency - it would be a good idea to be consistent with the approach taken previously by those opposite - and in the interests of the Territory and the service, I think it would be appropriate not to pass this amendment.

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