Quarantine hub contract’s ‘cloak of secrecy’ exposed


The details of a contract to build the Wellcamp quarantine facility in southern Queensland will remain secret even if the project is terminated, the ABC can reveal.  

Key points:

  • A contract for the construction of the Wellcamp quarantine facility includes a confidentiality clause
  • The state opposition accuses the government of shrouding the deal in secrecy
  • John Wagner says he insists on confidentiality clauses in all his business dealings

The 1,000-bed facility is being built outside Toowoomba by construction firm Wagner Corporation, with the state government to lease the facility for at least a year to quarantine overseas travellers.

In its preliminary finding into a Right to Information application by the ABC, the Office of the Information Commissioner found the deal signed between the state government and Wagner Corporation included a clause to keep all communications about the proposal confidential.

"[It includes] all confidential information and communications about the Wellcamp proposal provided prior to the date of the contract," Acting Commissioner Katie Shepherd said.

"The contract also makes clear that the obligation of confidence … survives termination or completion of the contract."

The ABC can also reveal 53 pages of correspondence were exchanged between the Queensland government and Wagners before the contract was signed in August.

'Cloak of secrecy'

The state opposition said the government was "choosing secrecy over openness".

"The government hasn't made the case as to why this lucrative contract should remain confidential," opposition spokesperson on integrity in government, Fiona Simpson, said.

The state opposition's Fiona Simpson says the Palaszczuk government has shrouded the Wellcamp contract in a cloak of secrecy.(ABC Brisbane: Jessica Hinchliffe)

"The government is abusing commercial in-confidence clauses by shrouding it in a cloak of secrecy."

Ms Simpson said the government had also been warned by the Queensland Auditor-General about "over-using commercial in-confidence provisions to hide public spending from Queensland taxpayers".

The Department of State Development, Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning said it was common for such contracts to be commercial in-confidence.

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'No-one else's business'

Wagner Corporation chairman John Wagner said it was his company's policy for all contracts to have confidentiality clauses.

"I don't think there's anything wrong with it, whether they're another tenant, or the government or anyone else," Mr Wagner said.

Wagner Corporation director John Wagner says his company insists on confidentiality clauses in all of its contracts.(ABC News: Chris Gillette)

"We insist on it with everything we do because … it's no-one else's business apart from ours.

"We don't want every man and his dog knowing what deals we do with different people … that's our position — always has been, always will be."

Director of the Institute of Ethics, Governance and Law at Griffith University, Professor Charles Sampford, said there was no reason the details of the contract couldn't be made public once completed.

"Whether this is done by a government agency or a non-government [agency], there shouldn't be generally a difference," Professor Sampford said.

The master plan for the quarantine facility shows cabins split into zones with single, double and family rooms.(Supplied: Queensland government)

"It's our money … the basic principle is that we should know how our powers are being used and how our money is being spent."

Professor Sampford said the Queensland government was not unique in the use of commercial in-confidence clauses to hide details.

Wet weather delays work

Construction on the Wellcamp facility is continuing, despite interruptions caused by recent wet weather.

Wet weather has caused delays to the construction of the Wellcamp quarantine facility. (ABC Southern Qld: Georgie Hewson)

"We've probably lost two and a half weeks as a result of the weather, but we're trying to catch that up," Mr Wagner said.

Mr Wagner said he hoped to have completed stage one of the site by the end of year.

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news



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