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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 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


    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.

  10. Come On Carlton

    @Ed James – [Our politicians are a minority amongst us, yet they consistently dictate how we the peoples, the majority will play this dysfunctional political game]

    I have never seen you make a more profound statement than this. But remember, that counts for both/all sides of politics with the exception of a few individuals within these groups.

  11. Come On Carlton

    @Stephen Paul – “..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..”

    This is clearly understood and I suppose any evaluating committee, including the media, would quickly fathom the difference.

    I would imagine working in the Public Service at times being like tip-toing on broken glass, but we are talking about a distinction between minor personal gripes and the consequences that face Whistle Blowers who risk everything for exposing corruption that effects all Australians.

  12. Thteribl

    I am afraid that the only answer – the only way to sleep soundly at night – is to dump your load on Wikileaks and seek asylum in some remote Latin American Banana Republic. The Law has never entertained the tender conscience. One cannot “Blow the Whistle” without one’s motives aligning with James Ashby.

  13. Person Ordinary

    It may not be the politicians dragging their feet, but the empire-builders in the public service, resisting all attempts at greater accountability …

    And the misguided public, swallowing the whole deception that politicians are ultimately in power, come out punching at the puppets.

  14. Jimmy

    Mark Out West – ” 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.” I didn’t say here that I was for or against this issue – just that Come On Carlton was misrepresenting what Stephen Paul had said.

    Come On Carlton – ” Since when is ultimate truth a complex issue?” Are you that naive? Whose ultimate truth? Shall we take the Evangelicals who beli eve the bible is the ultimate truth? Or is the ultimate truth the Koran? I could list many many cases of groups who think they know the “ultimate truth” that contradicts someone elses “ultimate truth”

  15. Edward James

    Thteribl. When some of us notice a problem which needs to be exposed. We should consider if its worth our trouble to blow the whistle. It takes a certain type of person to blow the whistle when they know the personal cost to others who have stood up and been almost wiped out. There are legal avenues and there are political avenues one may take. I advise people never to take their political issue into a law court. When approaching the State Ombudsman and ICAC it becomes apparent these bodies are so politically correct they expect the information you provide to be as close to a brief of evidence as you can make it. Almost impossible for someone like me who was limited by my lack of formal education. By the time most of us find out what laws have been broken the statute of limitations has kicked in. Ten fifteen years fighting for due process and natural justice is what lies ahead. Consider the Heiner Affair and the years one individual has spent fighting political allsorts. Consider the cost to Gillian Sneddon, Val who put together the Whistle Blowers Documents Exposed http://www.wbde.org/ web site a handy resource to people who need to understand what is involved in exercising your civil rights. If you are thinking of standing up, consider well the personal cost you may have to pay to exercise you freedom. Edward James

  16. Rab Zen

    Not so Jimmy.

    When you have a collection of ultimate truths, then the next step is to break them down with common denominators into the Absolute Truth.

    eg…there are M-slims who believe parts of the bible ( Jesus is mentioned in the Koran ) and there are Evangelicals who believe parts of the Koran.

    All religions have a piece of the puzzle Jimmy, but none of them have the whole picture, the Absolute Truth.

    What is truth? This is the same question that Pontius Pilate put to Jesus just after he had been condemned to death. Just as Jesus was about to answer, Pontius was distracted and called away and the answer was never given.

    But you can find the same answer that Jesus would have given to Pontius Pilate in the Psalm 119 : 142. if you are really interested. Things are never what they seem, Jimmy.

  17. Jimmy

    Rab Zen – I know that the bible and Koran overlap but that doesn’t change the fact that those who beli eve the bible is the “ultimate truth” subscribe to creationism which clashes with science’s “ultimate truth” of evolution.

    And even the act of filtering all the “ultimate truths” into one “absolute truth” was possible it would hardly be easy or uncomplex.

    Come on Carlton states that the “ultimate truth” isn’t a complex issue – yet it clearly is.

  18. Jimmy

    Plus how many people are interested in you “absolute truth” – most seem happy with their version of “ultimate truth”

  19. Edward James

    Often after someone blows the whistle they understand why whistle blowers should not only be protected by whistle blower legislation but more importantly they should know how to use those laws. Failing to invoke legislation, can mean you are not protected! Edward James

  20. Rab Zen

    Jimmy, there is no clash between Creationism and evolution. Again, science has many ultimate truths, but it also purports an Absolute Truth.

    At the moment I have a very pressing ultimate truth of my own. ( grin ) It’s an appointment with a very important person in my life and I am already 10 minutes late, so I better leave off but would be glad to elaborate later if you are still available then.

    Rab Zen

  21. Jimmy

    Rab Zen – “there is no clash between Creationism and evolution” Try telling that to all the creationists who denounce evolution and refuse to have ti taught at schools.

    And again even if you are correct in your assertion it shows once again that “ultimate truth” is a complex issue and many only want to see their ultimate truth.

  22. Edward James

    Well known Whistleblower Gillian Sneddon has won her claim against the NSW state government. She was the person pilloried by NSW Parliament because she assisted NSW police in their gathering of evidence against Milton (the horrible) Orkopolous Member for Swansea. Edward James


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