Public Interest Disclosure Bill

Mr PEDERICK (Hammond) (15:54): I rise to speak to the Public Interest Disclosure Bill 2018, which replaces the Whistleblowers Protection Act 1993. This bill fulfils another Marshall Liberal government election commitment to strengthen protections for whistleblowers. We are doing this because the purpose of the bill is to encourage the disclosure of information in the public interest about significant risks to public health, safety or the environment, or about maladministration and misconduct in public administration.

This is a scheme that is more in line with contemporary attitudes about the need for disclosure of wrongdoing in public administration and one which recognises the important statutory functions of ICAC and the Office for Public Integrity. This bill is identical to the 2016 bill put up by the former Labor government but with one key difference: we have made provision for disclosures to be made to the media.

This bill is an integral part of our transparency and accountability agenda across government, and this includes other bills which will allow for public hearings into suspected maladministration and corruption and protecting journalists from having to reveal confidential sources in the interest of holding governments to account. This bill will repeal the Whistleblowers Protection Act and instead replace it with an act based on a review of the same that was undertaken by the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption.

This legislation provides to people to whom a disclosure can be made that disclosures will be properly assessed and investigated and protects public officers from reprisals by recognising the offence of victimisation and creating remedies for this. For a disclosure to be protected, the person must believe on reasonable grounds that the information is true or believe on reasonable grounds that the information may be true and is of sufficient significance to justify its disclosure. A person who makes an appropriate disclosure is not subject to any liability as a consequence of that disclosure.

The bill also imposes a duty on the person who receives an appropriate disclosure to take action in respect of the disclosure and to take reasonable steps to keep the informant advised of any action or outcomes resulting from an investigation. Importantly, this bill allows disclosure to be made to a member of parliament, except a minister or a journalist, where a person has made a disclosure in accordance with the bill's requirements and either does not receive notification within 30 days that an assessment has been made or does not receive notification after 120 days of the outcome of the assessment. The commissioner will be responsible for updating ICAC resources and its website in addition to his existing role to educate the Public Service about their reporting obligations in respect of misconduct and maladministration.

I think this type of transparent legislation is absolutely important, when what we have seen with the previous Labor government is public servants too frightened to speak out, frightened for their jobs, frightened to lose the income that supports their families if they speak out. People are told from a high level that if they say anything against the department, anything against some of the protocols or practices, which may be maladministration or wrongdoing, that it is their job. So they stay silent because they are threatened to the nth degree that they cannot open up and reveal any of this information. In the interests of transparency and accountability, the Marshall Liberal government are presenting this bill to the house today.