Should tender decisions be made in open session?


October 28, 2019

Here is the submission Stephen Mayne has made opposing the City of Melbourne proposal to return to the pre-2013 default position of making tender decisions in council sessions which are closed to the public. You too can make a submission by going to this page and submitting it before 10am on Tuesday.

6.6 Publishing Tender Recommendations (to be decided at October 29 council meeting)

This proposal from management would represent the biggest backward step on council transparency over the past 3 years.

And where was the consultation with interested stakeholders?

As the former chair of the Finance and Government Committee who pushed for the switch from confidential to public in terms of the default position on tenders, I'm singularly unimpressed and unconvinced about this proposal.

Where was the email, meeting or phone call making the case on this issue before we reach the finality of a council decision - a decision to be made without the ability for stakeholders to present to councillors because it is being made at a council meeting rather than a committee meeting.

If councillors are minded to proceed with this excessively secretive proposal, which has been justified in threadbare terms in the officer report (has there actually been a threat of litigation?), please defer this matter to a Future Melbourne Committee meeting at least a month from now so there is both time for consultation with stakeholders and an opportunity for interested parties to make oral submissions to councillors setting out the case for retaining or tweaking the current system, rather than making this significant change.

Finally, I'd like to point out the dreadful timing of this proposal just days after some of Australia's biggest media companies have launched their national "Right To Know" campaign.

City of Melbourne is proudly Australia's most open and transparent council - it shows up the Federal and State government constantly with its excellent transparency on everything from your councillor expenses reporting, council reports on interstate travel (see two examples on upcoming agenda), the conflicts of interest register, a flexible and frequent public questions regime, disclosures of individual land valuations and best practice disclosure with senior executive pay, just to name a few.

If having a default position to make tender decisions in confidential council sessions gets up, what's next? Banning public questions? Ditching web casting? Returning to only maintaining website registers required by law?

Over the course of this current council you have generally supported this pro-disclosure regime and at times extended it, most notably with the excellent move to live web cast council and committee meetings.

The only other notable backward step, apart from this proposal, has been removing best practice granularity with related party transaction disclosure involving councilors, although this was in accordance with the accounting standards rather than being a conscious council decision to be more secretive.

Please think of the optics of this move in the wider context of council's excellent transparency reputation and the debate about increasingly secretive practices at other levels of government.

Bureaucrats all too often oppose transparency because they want to avoid embarrassment and scrutiny and want to maximise efficiency.

Writing most tender reports for decision in confidential sessions of council will mean less work for officers and less complexity in administration. And have you actually surveyed your tenderers to see if they support this move to provide them with less transparency in your decision making processes?

Imagine if judges came out and said we'd like to deliver all our judgments in closed sessions of the court, with a summary of the decisions to be released on a quarterly basis on the court's website.

There would be outrage, as there should be over this proposal to return to the pre-2012 Doyle era at Town Hall when City of Melbourne was one of Victoria's more secretive councils.

I look forward to listening to councillors push back on this proposal on Tuesday night. From time to time there was quite a bit of officer resistance to the transparency reform agenda pursued in the previous term of council and it is disappointing to see this proposal to go confidential on tenders has got this far.

Please don't endorse this proposal without at least having a more comprehensive consultation and explanation program first.

Regards
Stephen Mayne
Former City of Melbourne councillor