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Federal

Oct 30, 2012

Wilkie tires of waiting on whistleblower laws

Andrew Wilkie's move to introduce a whistleblowing bill prompted some action from a government hitherto content to ignore the issue -- but legislative action may fall off the "to do" list again.

The whistleblowing bill introduced into Parliament yesterday by Andrew Wilkie had an interesting and immediate result.

“We are committed to finalising our position by the end of this year and will introduce legislation early in the new parliamentary year,” Special Minister of State Gary Gray said in a media release a few hours later. Gray also invited Wilkie to come and have a chat.

“Our position” relates to the government’s response to a major report on whistleblowing in the Australian Public Service, by the Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, headed by Labor MP Mark Dreyfus QC.

Dreyfus’s report was completed in 2009 — February 2009. If Gray is right and a bill is introduced early next year, that will make it four years since the committee reported. And given there’s an election due by August next year, there’s no guarantee a bill introduced then will be passed before Parliament is dissolved anyway.

Four years is a long time to “finalise a position”. It’s a “complex framework”, Gray said, but the government is keen to “build upon the foundations of” the inquiry. The government responded to the report over a year after it was tabled, in March 2010, and has been promising to introduce a Public Interest Disclosure bill ever since, so far without any bill materialising. Public interest disclosure was one of the areas that the government’s agreement with Andrew Wilkie “acknowledged” but without a specific commitment. Apparently the bill been caught in Gray’s in-tray, in endless redrafts that have significantly watered down the bill to the point of meaninglessness.

The Greens, who were instrumental in the passage of major whistleblower legislation in the ACT, have been repeatedly pushing for action from the government on the bill, and just three weeks ago tried to force the government in the Senate to indicate when it would move on the issue.

The Wilkie bill, drafted with advice from professor AJ Brown of Griffith University, enables all officials, including contractors and MPs, to report disclosable conduct either to superiors in their department, a minister, agencies overseeing the legislation (the Ombudsman and the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security), or to the media if certain conditions are met (in essence, a total failure to investigate information or deal properly with the outcome of an investigation, or if it’s unsafe).

University of Melbourne’s Dr Suelette Dreyfus, who is currently principal researcher on the World Online Whistleblowing Survey, describes the Wilkie bill as potentially the best whistleblower legislation in the world. “It’s based on the groundbreaking ACT legislation, which was a very brave and well thought-through bill. It has mechanisms for compensation for the repercussions whistleblowers suffer, and checks and balances. Whistleblowers can’t go to the media unless other processes have failed or there’s really no safe way to do so, for example.”

Wilkie’s bill won’t be considered before next year anyway, also placing it in danger of falling off the legislative agenda unless the government or the Coalition gets behind it. And that would mean no whistleblower legislation until at least 2014 at the earliest.

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24 comments

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24 thoughts on “Wilkie tires of waiting on whistleblower laws

  1. Greg Jones

    Great article BK.

    Wilkie and the Greens should be commended for their efforts in trying to force the issue. But alas, it looks more and more like “Yes Minister” everyday.

    Why does n’t the Govt and the Opposition just come out and say it, that the last thing they really want is an open platform for the Public Service or anyone else for that matter, to come out and Blow The Whistle.

    Yes, “it’s a complex framework”..indeed.

  2. Stephen Paul

    The simple fact it is complex. Public Servants do have a professional duty to serve the duly elected Government of the day and not try to undermine it from within and not every whistleblower is acting with altruistic intent. We should not forget the Gordon Grech fiasco. A public servant can manufacture a scandal, grind an axe or simply get it wrong. There is too much ambulance chasing in our political discourse and people are too ready to sneer and smear. Sometimes when decisions go against you, it not because the people making the decision are corrupt, but because they disagree.

  3. Come On Carlton

    Ok then Stephen Paul, lets call the whole thing off.

  4. Jimmy

    Come On Carlton – “Ok then Stephen Paul, lets call the whole thing off.” I don’t think Stephen Paul was advocating calling anything off, just acknowledging that it is more complex than some would have it appear.

  5. Edward James

    Gillian Sneddon is certainly being short changed as a whistle blower who assisted the police bring the activity of Milton (the horrible) Orkopolous to an end in goal. Wilkie was a whistle blower. What is it which causes all to many of our elected representatives to be so tardy on important matters of governance, and legislating to protect those who expose the political sins elected reps commit against the peoples. Edward James

  6. Come On Carlton

    @Jimmy

    Shades of Sir Humphrey there Jimmy. Since when is ultimate truth a complex issue?

    @ Edward James

    Tell Jimmy to take a leaf from your comment.

  7. Edward James

    Come On Carlton thanks! Our politicians are a minority amongst us, yet they consistently dictate how we the peoples, the majority will play this dysfunctional political game. I am of an age where I see people some friends. While fighting to achieve honest open representative government, grow old and die fighting. Edward James

  8. shepherdmarilyn

    The two major parties are too busy playing filthy racist games with refugee lives.

    Now Bowen wants to cut off the mainland.

  9. Mark out West

    @ Jimmy
    I wonder whether you have ever braved the consequences of showing up the boss by saying there is corruption in the ranks, my guess is that you haven’t.

    The complexity is that most people get on by turning a blind eye.

    Politicians need to make promises that they shouldn’t to get support, so they are very vulnerable to whistle-blowers who by their very nature the antithesis to a politician.