Public interest disclosure government action must be ambitious
Legal advocates have stepped up calls for whistleblower protection for federal government officials ahead of the release of the 2022 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index.
Representatives from the Human Rights Law Center (HRLC), Griffith University’s Center for Governance and Public Policy and Transparency International Australia argue it is time for comprehensive reform of laws protecting TPT.
Last November, the group made a joint submission to a Senate committee that called for an ambitious vision to overhaul common law and strengthen whistleblower protections.
The submission told the inquiry into the Public Interest (PID) Amendment (Review) Bill 2022 that without a transparent whole-of-government process to reset the PID, Australia’s position on whistleblower protection internationally would continue to lag behind.
The inquiry was the first “largely technical phase” of proposed government reforms to the PID Act, but only dealt fully with one of 21 reform areas, and four areas partially.
Griffith University’s Professor AJ Brown urged the Government to also ensure that whistleblower protection is extended to include parliamentary staff, as recommended by the ‘Setting the standard’ review.
“Unfortunately, this appears to be another loophole left open by the current bill, which undermines the historic establishment of the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC),” Brown said, adding that there was also no protection in cases where government officials who have reported corruption about parliamentarians or their staff to their agency.
While the advocates supported the bill in principle, the Transparency International Australia board member said outstanding technical issues showed it was important for the government to take a holistic rather than piecemeal approach to PID reforms.
“We are particularly concerned that limiting the scope of the PID Act by excluding purely personal employment grievances, while desirable in principle, would be extremely problematic under the proposed drafting.
“For example, there is a real risk that the proposed provision will exclude targets or witnesses of sexual harassment in the workplace from protection if they speak about their experiences. It needs to be fixed,” Brown said.
The 12-step road map to strengthen protections for whistleblowers and empower more people to speak out was shared with the senate inquiry last year. It examines measures for effective administration and enforcement; best practice protection; and workable thresholds and constraints.
HRLC senior counsel Kieran Pender said the government’s patchy attempt to deal with all the issues raised in the roadmap was the reason many problems existed with the PID regime.
“The amendments will only have the desired effect if significant further reform is undertaken to address critical underlying issues,” Pender said.
Ombud encourages agencies to be more forthcoming in PID disclosures