There is a current debate raging in Australia over what information in Government tendering processes should be regarded as commercial-in-confidence. The proximate trigger has been debate about the National Broadband Network and what should or should not be released from the Expert Panel report.
Today Henry Ergas has written a column on the general topic, though using the case of toll roads to make the point. I can't think of anything he has written with which I have agreed more. The secrecy accompanying PPP projects results in a lack of public accountability on the projects.
Part of his criticism is also of PPP's in general and the illusion that they reduce Government risk, whereas they tend to maintain risk, don't stop "crowding out" and really often amount to auctions for monopoly rents. I wouldn't perhaps subscribe to the theory that the private sector alone can be relied upon to deal with the issues of infrastructure building (I will return to that in a later post).
Mr Ergas will no doubt be delighting in the inquiry in the Federal Parliament that will be conducted by the Senate Finance and Public Administration Committee (inquiry won't be formally established till 15 November). The inquiry will be addressing "A process for determining public interest immunity claims made by the government in response to orders of the Senate or of Senate committees for the production of information and documents."
The inquiry could range further, given that in speaking on the topic Greens leader Senator Brown said "Freedom of information ought to have been legislated long ago for the private sector as well as for the public sector because the private sector ... is very, very dependent upon the largesse of taxpayers."
This is where Senator Minchin's demands over Telstra have led. Both Senator Minchin and Mr rgas need to realise that this practice of claiming commercial confidentiality has been driven more by the private sector in its dealings with Government than by the political process. They may be winning no friends in boardrooms around town.
Meanwhil any of my dear readers who have an interest in the matter of claimed confidentiality might like to take note of the inquiry.