Australia's federal government auditor has found that
departments were most likely to misuse confidentiality provisions
to prevent public disclosure for contracts when they related to
information and communications technology goods and
In a report published late last week, the Australian National
Audit Office detailed a probe into 190 sample contracts from six
agencies where confidentiality provisions had been used to prevent the deals being made public.
Despite the requirement for agencies to report contracts worth
over $100,000, they are in some cases able to avoid this by
claiming that doing so would threaten national security or reveal
trade secrets of contracted companies.
The ANAO found that 73 of the contracts (or 53 per cent) had
been incorrectly kept secret and did not in fact even contain confidentiality
With a total of $127 million, 40 of those 73 contracts,
related to the acquisition of ICT products or services.
The ANAO found an even higher incidence of misuse of
confidentiality provisions. While confidentiality can be employed
to, for example, protect national security or prevent the
disclosure of a supplier's profits margins under a contract, 73
per cent of contracts audited did not meet requirements for the
usage of such provisions.
Of the six agencies' confidential contracts audited, Centrelink
and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC), two of
the nation's largest purchasers of ICT goods and services, made up
the bulk, with the two agencies responsible for 136 of the 190
contracts that were not publicly disclosed for confidentiality
In Centrelink's case, just 15 of the 66 it said contained
confidentiality provisions actually did, while only half of DIAC's
supposed confidential contracts contained such provisions.
Meanwhile 73 per cent of Centrelink's confidential contracts
failed to meet the requirements for confidentiality according to
the ANAO — a figure on par with DIAC, the Federal Court and
the National Archives of Australia, which also had contracts
The ANAO put the misuse of confidentiality provisions down to
ignorance of the correct usage of confidentiality rather than an
attempt to conceal expenditure; however, it was concerned that the
misuse of confidentiality would undermine the Senate Order, used by
government to review spending and direct government policy.
Other agencies audited were the Australian Securities and
Investments Commission, and the Australian Research Council.