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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2020 Week 02 Hansard (Thursday, 20 February 2020) . . Page.. 574 ..

The Public Interest Disclosure Amendment Bill 2020 is an important next step in strengthening the ACT’s integrity framework following on from the establishment of the territory’s Integrity Commission last year. This bill recognises the ACT Integrity Commission as the pre-eminent integrity body in the territory and ensures our public interest disclosure legislation, which was first established by this government in 2012, and our integrity legislation, work effectively together.

The government committed to undertaking a review of our public interest disclosure legislation in response to the recommendations received from two Assembly inquiries into the establishment of the Integrity Commission. I tabled an update on the progress of this review in November last year, and the final report from this review has been integral in developing the bill I introduce today. The review was undertaken by PEG Consulting, and involved a comprehensive assessment of existing public interest disclosure arrangements. The independent reviewers met with key stakeholders during the consultation period and received 14 written submissions. In addition to considering the Moss review into the commonwealth PID Act, the independent reviewers considered a 2019 report from Griffith University titled, Whistling While They Work 2, and public interest disclosure legislation in other jurisdictions, both in Australia and overseas, as well as reviews of those pieces of legislation.

As I advised in my November update, the final report from the reviewers was received on 30 September last year. The report is of exceptional quality and I thank the reviewers for their work. This bill responds to the report’s recommendations and will support the achievement of a pro-disclosure culture that provides clarity to disclosers and disclosure officers. The bill reduces the complexity of current whistleblowing arrangements, increases protections for those making disclosures and clarifies the role of the ACT Integrity Commission and the Integrity Commissioner. Public sector agencies will now be committing to a pro-disclosure culture and to leading by example.

This will occur through agencies promoting education on notification obligations and protections, committing to transparency, and ensuring appropriately skilled and resourced investigations occur. Importantly, the bill also creates a clear differentiation between conduct which falls within the scope of the PID Act and conduct which falls within the scope of the Integrity Commission Act, while also creating a central decision-making point. The final report notes that the overlap between the existing PID legislation and the Integrity Commission legislation could create confusion about appropriate forums to disclose different types of conduct. This bill addresses that issue. Currently, the definition of disclosable conduct in section 8 of the PID Act overlaps with the definition of corrupt conduct in section 9 of the Integrity Commission Act 2018.

To support increased clarity for disclosers and to align the PID Act with the intention of our public interest disclosure regime, the bill amends the scope of the PID Act to draw maladministration into sharper focus. The bill reduces the scope of the PID Act by removing conduct that could, if proved, be a criminal offence or give reasonable grounds for disciplinary action, both of which fall within the definition of corrupt conduct in the Integrity Commission Act.

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