Markus Mannheim August 21, 2012
The ACT government will encourage its public servants to leak details of corruption to the media if they believe their agency isn't acting on their concerns.
The proposed laws will protect people who try to uncover the waste of substantial amounts of public money, threats to the environment or public health, or misconduct that improperly benefits individuals.
Labor's legislation will be debated on Thursday, though the Greens have already agreed to make it law. Australia's top whistleblowing expert, Griffith University's Professor A. J. Brown, hailed the plan as the best in the country and among ''the best anywhere in the world''.
The bill will overhaul the ACT's 18-year-old Public Interest Disclosure Act, allowing whistleblowers to share their concerns with journalists or MLAs if their allegations are not investigated within three months.
However, whistleblowers will be able to go public even earlier if they have evidence that serious wrongdoing is taking place, or have reasonable grounds to fear that an internal complaint would attract retaliation.
The proposed laws will protect whistleblowers from defamation and from being punished for reporting an alleged offence.
Professor Brown said the existing act provided weaker protection than similar laws interstate. In the past five years, only one whistleblower a year has used the act to report an alleged offence.
Professor Brown said the bill was ''not a green light to insiders to start blurting everything publicly''.
''Instead, it puts real pressure where it's needed, on government managers to get their own houses in order, and ensure their people can realistically come to them first, or to the auditor-general, or the ombudsman - so that problems can be addressed early before they get too bad.''
The Chief Minister's Directorate's head of public sector management, Liesl Centenera, said the government had initially wanted to align its laws with the Commonwealth's.
But the federal government, which has deliberated over whistleblower protections for more than three years now, was taking too long, she said.
''We didn't want to delay this any more, so we went ahead with our own model,'' Ms Centenera said yesterday. ''We believe this legislation is very balanced and gives disclosers a lot of support.''
A Canberra Liberals spokewoman said last night the party was yet to finalise its position on the bill.
However, the opposition was committed to creating an independent ACT public administration commission ''to ensure public servants can give frank and fearless advice without fear of negative consequences'', she said.
Greens leader Meredith Hunter welcomed the bill, saying her party had pressed for them as part of its parliamentary agreement with Labor.
"This is a very good example of what can be achieved when the experts are listened to and the Greens were pleased by the approach the government took on developing this bill."