Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 1 Hansard (19 February) . . Page.. 202 ..
MR CORNWELL (continuing):
The Auditor-General also noted that the proceeds from the sale of the quarry were used to pay off certain lease debts of the joint venture and of the other joint venture partner and that Totalcare did not receive any direct monetary benefit from the sale of the quarry joint venture. There may be explanations for that, but I am concerned at the erratic nature of these reports. The Auditor-General also observed that, despite there not being a requirement for Totalcare to publish financial information on the quarry joint venture, it did provide information in 2000-01, but not in 2000-02.
The Auditor-General went on to note that agencies have a duty to report to taxpayers about all relevant activities and financial outcomes and this should have included details about the quarries. Again, I can but support that comment. Indeed, the Public Accounts Committee report yesterday recognised the need for annual reports to be a little more detailed in these areas. I must admit that there are indications that the government is moving towards having a more commendable approach to providing information in the form of the Taxation (Government Business Enterprises) Bill 2002, a matter which was adjourned by, I think, Ms Dundas yesterday.
I repeat that the opposition will support this responsible request by Ms Dundas by going along with her motion, not least because the Assembly does need to know where Totalcare stands financially before the government makes an announcement to keep it afloat by some merger or incorporation, such as the government did with the arrangement with CIT over the loss-making Australian International Hotel School. I do not want to see, and I am sure the Assembly does not want to see, a repeat of that little exercise.
In relation to the amendment circulated by the government about the insertion of the words "subject to an assessment by the Auditor-General of the commercial-in-confidence nature of the information", I really do believe, like Ms Dundas, that it should be rejected. The commercial-in-confidence ploy has often-in fact, almost repeatedly-been abused. It is used to hide all information. What is commercial-in-confidence, anyway? I would suggest that it is whatever the government and businesses choose to make of it. Anything can be classified as commercial-in-confidence.
What was a good idea-I believe that it was well meant-to make government activities, including territory-owned corporations, more open and accountable has simply been prostituted to provide no more than window dressing and tokenism when we should have been looking at a quite legitimate attempt at providing transparency in government and business relations. I think therefore that the government's proposed amendment should be rejected and I would urge members to support Ms Dundas' motion.
MR QUINLAN (Treasurer, Minister for Economic Development, Business and Tourism and Minister for Sport, Racing and Gaming) (5.30): Mr Speaker, I want to make a few points. Ms Dundas has advised the house that she has been repeatedly approached by businesses feeling that they have been undercut by Totalcare. I haven't, and I would be happy to hear from them, if someone could get the message to Ms Dundas. Could I move that this debate be adjourned?
MR DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Cornwell): You have already commenced to speak, but somebody else could do it for you if that is the wish of the house.