Page 2415 - Week 07 - Wednesday, 2 August 2017

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Another opportunity for scrutiny arose in 2012, which the government again failed to act upon. The Treasury was informed in a letter on 15 May 2012 that the transfer of the water and sewage business was expected to occur on 1 July 2012, and the conditions included the continuation of shared services. At no point did the government probe Icon Water on these arrangements. These procurement issues could have been scrutinised from the very beginning. However, the Labor government chose not to go down that path of transparency and accountability. Instead, it has taken the opposition to actually uncover these agreements and ensure that the issue of probity is on the table and is being discussed.

There are questions regarding the agreements and there are questions surrounding the reluctance of Icon Water to be subjected to public scrutiny. There has been an unwillingness on the part of Icon Water and the Labor government to supply fundamental information about these arrangements. Icon Water has refused to provide the exact current value of the contracts; basic details on key performance indicators and reviews; a breakdown of the services provided; and further details on increases and total cost of the contracts, citing that they are commercial-in-confidence. Let me reiterate: Icon Water are refusing to provide the exact current value of the contracts. It is outrageous. They are wholly owned by the ACT government and they are refusing to say how much they are paying ActewAGL.

I draw the Assembly’s attention to the fact that the territory, through its directorates, agencies and authorities, regularly enters into and reports on contracts with terms that are commercial-in-confidence and is able to both proactively publish and specifically provide information upon request. Why is it that every other government agency can publish the value of a contract yet Icon Water refuse to do so? The vague answers received under questioning by the Canberra Liberals not only are evasive but also demonstrate a problematic reluctance of a wholly owned territory body to submit to public scrutiny.

Icon Water and the Labor government have asserted that Icon Water’s standing as a private corporation exempts them from a high level of scrutiny. During the estimates hearing on 3 July 2017, Minister Mick Gentleman said Icon Water “is not a government entity”. The Managing Director of Icon Water further emphasised “the reality is we are not a government business so we are not obligated to answer the question that you are asking”.

It appears that both the minister and the managing director have forgotten that Icon Water is wholly owned by the territory and that the Assembly has a right to scrutinise its decisions and actions. Icon Water is subject to freedom of information requests, annual report hearings, auditing by the Auditor-General and estimates hearings, during which the two agreements came to light. If they are not a government entity, why are they subject to all those Assembly and government processes? Being involved in these processes, the same processes as every other territory body, presupposes that Icon Water should be held to the same standard as every other government-owned and run entity.

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