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Wednesday, 3 December 1986
Page: 3292

Senator COATES —On behalf of the Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations I present the report on Australian Broadcasting Corporation employment contracts and their confidentiality, together with the transcript of evidence.

Ordered that the report be printed.

Senator COATES —by leave-I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

The Committee's reference was whether the claim by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that certain information should not be made available to Estimates Committee C on the ground of commercial confidentiality is justified. The `certain information' was the amount of payment by the ABC to its National compere-interviewer Geraldine Doogue. The Committee decided that it should first look at the general question of contract employment and of claims of confidentiality, the amount paid being irrelevant to the principle involved.

The Committee concludes that in general it does not disapprove of contracts of employment by a statutory authority, particularly when it will facilitate and improve the functions and responsibilities of the authority. However, the Committee believes that contract employment should not be used for normal full time employment, and that contracts limited to contracts of employment should be used only for limited employment or for the engagement of persons to perform particular tasks. The Committee believes that contracts for service are not a desirable form of arranging employment. I draw attention to some qualifying comments on contract employment by the two Opposition members of the Committee. On confidentiality, the Committee concludes that details of contracts should not be kept confidential if a parliamentary committee, acting with appropriate discretion, seeks the information. This is basic to the accountability of a statutory authority to the Parliament.

On the Doogue contract, a contract with a company to supply Ms Doogue's services, the Committee discovered that it contained two unusual and unjustifiable terms about which the Committee was gravely disturbed. One was a non-disclosure clause applying to the contractor but which the ABC claimed it was also obliged to honour, though it claimed commercial confidentiality generally as the prime reason for keeping the size of the fee secret. The Committee concludes, and the ABC now agrees, that the Parliament and its committees are entitled to full disclosure of such information and that no one should be left in any doubt about this. The other clause provided for Ms Doogue's fee for the year to be provided entirely in advance in two lump sums of 50 per cent each. I for one was outraged to learn this, and the Committee concludes that it was highly irresponsible of the ABC to enter into a contract which provided for the payment for services so far in advance of their being provided and considers that no similar provision should ever be even contemplated again. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.