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March 22, 2013

Commonwealth whistleblowers bill

The Government has introduced the Public Interest Disclosure Bill 2013 into the House of Representatives.

The provisions of the Bill:

  • establish a framework to encourage and facilitate reporting of wrongdoing by public officials in the Commonwealth public sector;
  • ensure that Commonwealth agencies properly investigate and respond to public interest disclosures; and
  • provide protections to public officials who make qualifying public interest disclosures.

The Bill will not protect disclosures made before commencement. However, once the measures in the Bill have commenced, a public official will be able to make a public interest disclosure in relation to conduct which occurred before or after commencement.

Principal officers of agencies are obliged to investigate a disclosure unless there is a basis for not doing so under certain grounds. An investigation must be completed within 90 days after being allocated to an agency, although this period may be extended by the Ombudsman if considered appropriate. A principal officer is obliged to notify a discloser who is readily contactable of certain matters relating to the handling of a disclosure, so that disclosers are kept informed of the status of their disclosures and what actions, if any, are proposed to be taken to address their concern.

The Bill provides broad protections for a public official who has made a qualifying public interest disclosure within the terms of the legislation. In addition to providing immunity from criminal, civil and administrative liability for making a public interest disclosure as defined in the Bill, the Bill would make it an offence for a person to take reprisal action against any person as a result of a person making, or proposing to make, a public interest disclosure.

The Bill has already been criticised for not allowing complaints to be lodged against ministers or for making provision for those in the intelligence community or for political staffers to be protected when they disclose wrongdoing to the media.

The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee has an inquiry into the Bill.

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Posted 22nd March 2013 by David Jacobson in Risk Management, Whistleblowers