Page 139 - Week 01 - Wednesday, 23 February 1994

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   Wednesday, 23 February 1994


MADAM SPEAKER (Ms McRae) took the chair at 10.30 am and read the prayer.


MRS CARNELL (Leader of the Opposition) (10.31): I present the Public Interest Disclosure Bill 1994.

Title read by Clerk.


That this Bill be agreed to in principle.

This Bill represents the first stage of our commitment to ensure open and accountable government in the Australian Capital Territory. It is designed to complement the establishment of the separate ACT Government Service due later this year. With the creation of a new public sector organisation comes the realisation that we need to develop and entrench a culture of accountability and responsibility amongst its employees.

The definition of a public servant's role has always been, as the title suggests, to serve the community interest. Yet the reality can sometimes be different. All too often, we read or hear about evidence of corruption or improper conduct by individuals occupying positions of responsibility within the public sector. Frequently, action is taken after the event, when it is already too late. We need to have a system which enables the community to be alerted to possible dangers before, rather than after, the fact. Whistleblowers or public interest disclosure laws will go some way towards achieving this.

You need only look at Western Australia during the so-called WA Inc. era to see what happened when the checks and balances were removed from the administration of government. It is not the political ramifications that matter so much, because those in political office are accountable to the electorate. What is important is that the public not bear the brunt of mismanagement or negligent practices. The activities of WA Inc. placed a huge debt around the neck of every Western Australian. In Victoria, we witnessed the Tricontinental Bank collapse; in South Australia, it was the State Bank; in Queensland, the Fitzgerald commission was needed to clear the air. Many of these incidents took years to surface. This is because public servants who are concerned about the ethics of a decision, or are witnesses to waste or abuses of process, have little or no protection if they decide to come forward. In many cases, emotional abuse, demotion and even dismissal have occurred to good people who were not prepared to turn their backs on things they knew were wrong.

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