THE privatisation of the management of the Wulanda Recreational Hub by the Mount Gambier City Council raises a number of questions regarding how council will ensure that private businesses are not adversely affected.
The public has been kept in the dark as council’s deliberations regarding the private operation of the hub have been held in confidence.
The Local Government Act allows councils to hold discussions in confidence and the vast majority are justified.
Last week, council chief executive Sarah Philpott revealed to The Border Watch that council was in private discussions with a possible private operator of the hub.
By law, the justification for confidentiality is that the privacy reasons of the matter discussed in secret must outweigh the public interest to know what’s being discussed.
Looking in from the outside, we know that council is considering the business model for the hub.
It’s questionable on how a business model for a ratepayer owned facility can remain secret.
The hub’s shareholders are the ratepayers of Mount Gambier and some of these shareholders will face competition from the private operators of the Wulanda recreational centre.
There are obvious questions like; will the private operator be paying a commercial rent, pay rates, electricity, all wages associated with the hub, to name a few costs that all other businesses pay.
A level playing field is required by law as South Australian legislation requires ‘competitive neutrality’.
The principles of competitive neutrality are designed to prevent councils providing any net advantage, through its control, over a private business operating in the same market.
Full transparency on any private sector involvement in the hub is essential.
We know from past comments from council that the hub is expected to cost about $1.4m each year to operate.
It will be interesting to see what the private operator will be contributing.