Sunday, April 14, 2024

Call for stronger whistleblower protections

The Education and Workforce Committee is seeking submissions on the Protected Disclosures (Protection of Whistleblowers) Bill.

The Bill proposes to strengthen whistleblowing processes for encouraging and protecting staff who speak up about wrongdoing.

In a submission to the Committee, Controller and Auditor-General, John Ryan said his Office supported the intent of the Bill.

“The aims of the Bill align with our focus on supporting the strengthening the integrity of the public sector,” the Auditor-General wrote.

“Building strong integrity cultures across the public sector is the most significant action our leaders at all levels can take to address corruption.”

He said whistleblowing processes were a crucial element to achieving integrity, good governance, and preventing and combating corruption.

“We note the specific changes proposed through the Bill as they will help to strengthen the integrity of the public sector.”

“We note in particular the importance of the changes clarifying the definition of “serious wrongdoing” and enabling people to report serious wrongdoing directly to an appropriate authority at any time, along with the strengthening of protections for disclosers, clarification of the internal procedure requirements for public sector organisations, and the potential forms of adverse conduct disclosers may face.”

The Bill currently contains the ability for the Ombudsman to consider the Office of the Auditor-General’s treatment of a protected disclosure and refer it to a Minister.

“Our view is that it is not appropriate for that to occur in light of our independence. We ask that the Bill clearly recognise our position as an independent office of Parliament that is an appropriate authority,” Mr Ryan wrote.

“Clause 30 sets out the provisions for escalation, either through referral to a Minister or for investigation by the Ombudsman, of a protected disclosure where the Ombudsman considers the receiver of the disclosure has neither acted as they should nor dealt with the matter to address the serious wrongdoing.

“Clause 30(2) does not authorise the Ombudsman to act if the disclosure relates to the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment. However, this same exclusion is not provided for the Office of the Auditor-General. We request that a similar exclusion is provided to our Office. I have raised this issue with the Office of the Ombudsman and the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, as fellow Officers of Parliament, and both share my view on this matter.”

He said his Office supported the Ombudsman’s proposal of a new subclause 23(2)(c), which specifies that the Speaker is the appropriate authority for Officers of Parliament.

“We welcome the public consultation on the Protected Disclosures (Protection of Whistleblowers) Bill and thank you for the opportunity to submit,” Mr Ryan concluded.

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