For a democracy to function effectively, citizens must do more than just vote in elections.
A democracy, just like an economy, works best when citizens are active participants in the decisions that affect their lives.
The increased use of public private partnerships (PPPs) to deliver government infrastructure is presenting significant challenges to our democratic systems. Recent PPP ventures in Sydney and Brisbane have excluded the community from key parts of the decision-making processes.
In Sydney, the Carr State Government developed, negotiated and signed the contract for the controversial Cross-City Tunnel behind closed doors.
Only after the tunnel opened did the public find out how high the tolls were, that surface roads could be closed to "funnel" traffic into the tunnel, and that the private operator could sue the government if public transport improvements led to a loss of revenue.
Without citizen involvement in the PPP process, the interests of shareholders triumphed over the interests of the public.
And to further blur the line between private and public interest, soon after Bob Carr resigned as NSW premier he went to work for Macquarie Bank, a company involved in huge public private partnerships all over the world.
In Brisbane, Lord Mayor Campbell Newman recently signed the contract for the North-South Bypass Tunnel during a private press conference.
The contract locks Brisbane people into a 45-year agreement with the RiverCity Motorway consortium, which is promising shareholders a 6 per cent return on investment before the tunnel is even built. The public will not see the contract before financial close, which is expected in early July.
To be fair, Brisbane City Council has provided the public with information on the North-South Bypass Tunnel over the past two years.
But it is worrying and unfair that the public are being excluded from the most important part of the decision-making process. The contract is where the rubber hits the road for this tunnel proposal, which has changed drastically since Newman proposed it in his 2004 election platform.
Secrecy was partially justified during the tendering stage because it allowed council to have the upper hand in negotiations between the two competing consortiums.
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