Lisa Cox June 08, 2012
Whistleblowers in the ACT public service will be allowed to take their complaints directly to journalists under new laws proposed by the ACT government.
The government tabled legislation in the Legislative Assembly yesterday that will overhaul the territory's public disclosure laws and give greater protection to whistleblowers who expose wrongdoing in the public sector.
If passed by the Assembly, the laws will make the ACT the first jurisdiction in Australia to protect whistleblowers who speak to the media because they have no other safe option for exposing a matter of public interest.
The laws also provide more channels for making a disclosure, including to supervisors in the public service, MLAs and designated ''disclosure officers''.
Deputy Chief Minister Andrew Barr told the Assembly the bill ''recognises the government's responsibility to facilitate the reporting of wrongdoing''.
But he said the bill set strict rules for when a disclosure to a journalist or MLA would be covered by the legislation.
Mr Barr said speaking to a journalist or MLA was ''an avenue of last resort when there is a widespread failure of internal systems preventing a disclosure being properly dealt with, or where the corruption is so entrenched that there is no chance that an external disclosure will be taken up and investigated.''
The legislation also protects whistleblowers from legal liability and allows whistleblowers to seek compensation if they suffer as a result of bringing wrongdoing to light.
Mr Barr said the bill respected the strength of character it took for whistleblowers to disclose a matter of public interest.
''A robust whistle blowing regime is a good indicator of the ethical tone of public sector organisations,'' he said.
''I suspect with the introduction of this bill we are raising the tone of the ACT public service.''
The bill was welcomed yesterday by Griffith University law professor A. J. Brown, who chaired an Australian Research Council on whistleblowing.
''The new ACT bill provides a new better practice model for the Federal Parliament to hopefully, finally, follow,'' Professor Brown said.
''It is gratifying to see publicly-funded research used to such good effect by a government committed to leading the way with meaningful reforms.''