The Independent Member for Denison, Andrew Wilkie, will this morning (Mon) introduce a Private Members Bill to protect public officials who disclose corruption, maladministration and other wrongdoing in the Commonwealth public service.
The Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Bill 2012 would strengthen public integrity and change the culture in the Commonwealth public service to one where the disclosure of wrongdoing is encouraged.
“Whistleblowers, in other words those professional people who take a stand and speak truth to power, are every bit as crucial to a healthy democracy as an independent media and judiciary,’’ Mr Wilkie said.
“But whistleblowers are too often left with an unbearable personal cost as they lose their jobs, their friends and family, their minds and sometimes even their lives.
“It’s beyond time we gave them the protection they need and deserve.’’
As recommended by the Dreyfus committee, this Bill requires public agencies to prevent reprisals from being taken and creates robust compensation mechanisms, mirroring those which have been working well in the United Kingdom for more than 10 years, by ensuring access to appropriate and affordable remedies under our own Fair Work Act.
Mr Wilkie introduced his Bill because the Federal Government is dragging its feet – despite committing to introduce whistleblowing legislation in 2007 and again following the 2010 election.
Mr Wilkie’s Bill will go further than the Federal Government’s watered-down proposal and extend to all Commonwealth officials, not just public servants but also Members of Parliament and their staff.
It will also provide protection under certain circumstances for officials who make their disclosure to the media.
“What is not covered, and obviously nor should it be, is if the person making the disclosure knows the information is false, misleading or vexatious, if the information relates entirely to a policy disagreement regarding public expenditure, or if it relates entirely to judicial or tribunal matters specifically excluded by the Bill,’’ Mr Wilkie said.
Mr Wilkie said the Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Bill 2012 would bring the Federal Government in line with every other Australian jurisdiction which introduced whistleblower legislation up to 22 years ago.
“Whistleblower protection was first recommended for Australia’s federal public sector 18 years ago,’’ Mr Wilkie said.
“There is nothing radical about any of this and no good reason why the Government or Opposition would oppose it.
“But it’s way beyond time for this Government to honour its promise, made repeatedly, to deliver best-practice whistleblowing legislation.
“Because if it won’t then the community should ask what’s it trying to hide? And if it won’t then I suggest it’s time for the Opposition to step up to the plate and do the Government’s job by supporting this Bill.’’