By KEN SAPWELL
PROMISES of an open and transparent inquiry into the operations of Tweed council come with a hefty price tag for people unable to attend the public hearings.
Anyone wanting transcripts must stump up $13.75 a page - with a minimum order of $80.
But the cost per page rises to $18.70 if the transcript is required the same day, reducing to $15.95 if a turnaround is required within two days.
With around 100 to 120 pages of evidence every day, people seeking a full day's transcript of evidence could be up for as much as $2244.
The astronomical costs have already sparked public disquiet, with one follower of the Royal Commission-style probe, Derek Budd, saying only those with big bucks could afford the transparency on offer.
Another said he was unable to attend the inquiry because it was standing room only but was shocked by the costs of acquiring transcripts of evidence he was particularly interested in.
Local Government Minister Tony Kelly said the decision to appoint the private transcription service, Auscript Australasia Pty Ltd, was made by the inquiry's commissioner, Maurice Daly.
He said the government was unable to buy the transcripts and post them on the inquiry's internet site because this would breach the company's copyright.
??Officer assisting the inquiry, Angus Broad, said he acknowledged that there were community concerns about the costs of obtaining transcripts.
"It is an issue and it is something I will raise with the commissioner," Mr Broad said yesterday.
Mr Broad said it may be possible to explore ways that the transcripts could be made more readily available, but declined to reveal the options.
He was also unable to comment on whether the commission had other alternatives rather than engaging a private company to provide transcripts at a price.
An Auscript spokesman said the arrangement was not unusual and the charges imposed were the same as those for other inquiries.
He said that Auscript covered a range of inquiries and court proceedings, including federal court cases and tribunal hearings.
He said there had been a number of inquiries about the costs of the Tweed transcripts, but only a few orders had been received.
Among them was Tweed council which is understood to have limited its orders to transcripts of evidence given by staff and councillors because of the costs involved.