PAUL AUSTINJune 24, 2010
PREMIER John Brumby has been accused of running a secret state after his government was caught breaching its transparency rules by failing to disclose details of contracts with the private sector worth about $3 billion.
An Auditor-General’s investigation discovered 43 contracts, ranging in value from just over $10 million to nearly $500 million, whose contents had not been made public as required under the Bracks/Brumby government’s disclosure policies.
Auditor-General Des Pearson also condemned government departments for ”tender splitting” – issuing several contracts at the one time for the one job, so that each contract had a value below the threshold at which the documents are required to be made public.
He found that Water Minister Tim Holding had endorsed the excision of 45 items from the publicly released contract for Victoria’s $5.7 billion desalination plant, including ”details of annual supply of water volume”.
In a scathing report tabled in Parliament yesterday, Mr Pearson warned of dangerous consequences if government deals with business were kept secret.
”Inadequate disclosure of contracts with the private sector can lead to a culture where some might gain advantage at the expense of others and the community, and practices that are not in the public interest can be entrenched,” he said.
Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu said the Auditor-General had exposed a culture of government secretary, deception and incompetence.
”They promised to be open and transparent, but instead they have delivered the secret state,” Mr Baillieu said.
Mr Brumby conceded the government had to lift its game, and said all the Auditor-General’s recommendations would be implemented.
”To be blunt, there’s no excuse for departments not doing that [disclosing contract contents]. Departments need to do that, and they will do that,” he said.
But the Premier stressed that details of contracts accounting for 90 per cent of the value of all government deals with the private sector had been made public.
He called the Liberals hypocrites, telling Parliament that under Jeff Kennett’s Coalition government ”absolutely none of the detail of any contracts was every disclosed to the public”.
Mr Pearson said that details of about 30 per cent of contracts worth over $10 million had not been made public ”reflects systemic breakdowns in disclosure and reporting controls that diminish transparency”.
He was concerned statements of compliance made by departmental secretaries in their annual reports to Parliament had been inaccurate.
Water Department secretary Greg Wilson told the Auditor-General the desalination contract required the government to place orders for water each year ”for any amount” – from zero up to 150 gigalitres.