Contracts not so confidentialA Senate Order which has the aim of reducing the unjustified inclusion of confidentiality provisions in Government contracts has undergone its periodic audit.
The Australian National Audit Office found that the use of confidentiality provisions in contracts had continued to reduce over time.
It found that when the Senate Order was introduced in 2001, 24 per cent of relevant Australian Government contracts were reported to contain confidentiality provisions.
In contrast, the 2012 calendar year Senate Order listings contained 42,536 contracts, of which 1,703 (four per cent), were reported as containing confidentiality provisions.
However, although the ANAO found a decline in the proportion of contracts reported as containing confidentiality provisions, specific confidentiality provisions in contracts continued to be incorrectly applied and reported.
The ANAO’s examination of a sample of 107 contracts reported by Agencies as containing confidentiality provisions showed that only 37 contracts (35 per cent) contained specific confidentiality provisions. Of these 37 contracts, 10 (nine per cent) contained provisions that were assessed by the ANAO as not meeting the Confidentiality Test.
“Overall, while the results indicate that the intent of the Senate Order is being addressed, some portfolio Departments and Agencies need to implement improved arrangements to support the timely publication of contract lists on their websites and the tabling of Ministers letters of advice,” the ANAO said.
“There is also scope for Agencies to improve their reporting by only identifying in their Senate Order listings the use of specific confidentiality provisions. Finance providing clearer guidance to Agencies about the application of the reporting requirements of the Senate Order is likely to assist in addressing this issue.”
It said the Senate Order had now been in place for 12 years, and while substantially fewer contracts had been reported as containing confidentiality provisions, Agencies still experience difficulties in meeting all of its requirements.
“This is in part due to the lack of clarity created by various reporting requirements and the differing versions of guidance available,” the ANAO said.
It made a number of recommendations for improvement, one being that Agencies could better identify and report on the use of confidentiality provisions, particularly pricing information and the difference between general and specific confidentiality provisions.
It also recommended that Agencies implement enhanced processes to support data capture, reporting and quality assurance of contract information.
“In addition, Finance updating relevant guidance on the Senate Order would support more complete and accurate public reporting on the use of confidentiality provisions,” the ANAO said.
Edition 381, 1 October 2013 2013