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27 Jun, 2013

Australia Passes Whistleblower Laws


Canberra, Attorney-General’s Office, 26 June 2013 –  Public-sector whistleblowers will have greater protection under legislation passed by the Government today.

Minister for the Public Service and Integrity Mark Dreyfus QC said the Public Interest Disclosure Bill and the Public Interest (Consequential Amendments) Bill which passed through the Senate today were a significant step in advancing integrity and accountability of the Commonwealth public sector.

“The Public Interest Disclosure Bill strikes the right balance to achieve a comprehensive and effective framework of protection for public interest disclosures in the Commonwealth public sector. It will help build and maintain a culture of disclosure across the public sector,” Mr Dreyfus said.

“The Bill will encourage a pro-disclosure culture, by facilitating disclosure and investigation of wrongdoing and maladministration in the Commonwealth public sector. It provides a clear set of rules for agencies to respond to allegations of wrongdoing made by current and former public officials, and strengthens protections against victimisation and discrimination for those speaking out.”

The Public Interest Disclosure Bill implements the 2010 Government Response to the 2009 House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs report, Whistleblower Protection: A Comprehensive Scheme for the Commonwealth Public Sector, chaired by Mr Dreyfus.

The Bill will have broad coverage across the Commonwealth public sector, including application to the Australian Public Service, statutory agencies, Commonwealth authorities, the Defence Force, Parliamentary departments and contracted service providers for Commonwealth contracts.

“I would like to thank all those who contributed to the development of this legislation, from my colleagues on the 2009 Committee Inquiry, to the Government members and senators who have had a sustained interest in the progress of this Bill, the Committees involved in the recent Parliamentary inquiries and those who made submissions to these inquiries. All have made valuable contributions to the Bill.

“I would particularly like to acknowledge the assistance of Dr A. J. Brown in the development of the legislation,” Mr Dreyfus said.

“A federal public interest disclosure scheme has been a long time coming. The passage of this legislation means that the Commonwealth is no longer the only Australian jurisdiction without dedicated legislation to facilitate the making of public interest disclosures or to protect those who make them.”

The Public Interest Disclosure Bill includes a statutory review of its operation two years after commencement.

Excerpt from the Introduction in the report: Whistleblower Protection: A Comprehensive Scheme for the Commonwealth Public Sector (Download FREE by clicking here).

Blowing the whistle, or speaking out against suspected wrongdoing in the workplace can be a very risky course of action. Outcomes can fall far short of expectations. In Ibsen’s play, Dr Stockmann assumed that his assessment of the town spa would be welcomed and that work would soon commence to address the contamination. Authorities took a different view and considered Stockmann a threat to the prosperity promised by the new town spa. Locals also turned against Stockmann and branded him an ‘enemy of the people’.

Even when aware of the risks, whistleblowers may be confronted with a number of strong ethical tensions. They have a professional sense of loyalty to their employer, colleagues and clients. They have their personal interests to consider concerning their career progression and the welfare of their family. These may be set against higher principles of morality, conscience and truth. Yet all too often whistleblowers are left frustrated, humiliated or ostracised at great personal cost.