Page 140 - Week 01 - Wednesday, 23 February 1994

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However, this has not stopped a small but courageous band of public officials who have braved threats of reprisals, dismissal and isolation to come forward and figuratively "blow the whistle" on corrupt or improper conduct in the public sector. We should not tolerate a system which allows people to be blackmailed or open to reprisal. The legislation I have introduced today creates a framework to protect a whistleblower from such unlawful reprisals. More importantly, it seeks to entrench in the public sector a culture that says to every employee, "If there is something happening in your workplace that you know is not right, then you can do something about it and not be afraid of the consequences".

The Public Interest Disclosure Bill tabled today will establish procedures to encourage employees to disclose any corrupt, illegal or improper conduct or to identify wastage of public resources. It will protect people who come forward from any reprisals they may face because of their disclosures. It will encourage any disclosures made about corrupt or improper conduct and make sure that they are properly investigated and acted upon. It will protect persons who resist any effort by an employer to make them commit a crime or conceal an offence or wastage.

Under the legislation, each Territory department or statutory authority is required to establish procedures to deal with reports from public servants about corrupt or improper conduct or wastage of public resources in their workplace. Each agency will be required to present an annual report of its activities to be tabled here in the Legislative Assembly. This report will include, amongst other things, a description of the procedures the agency has instituted to facilitate public interest disclosures. It will also include the number and type of public interest disclosures received and any investigation or action taken in respect of each report.

How does a public servant report an incident he or she is concerned about? A whistleblower can choose whether to report the incident to the proper authority within his or her own department or agency. If the person involved believes that that disclosure may not be investigated appropriately or that there may be repercussions, he or she may then report the matter to the Ombudsman. Under the Bill, the Ombudsman Act 1989 is amended to designate the Ombudsman as a proper authority capable of receiving a public interest disclosure from any person. The Ombudsman will also have the power to specify and, if required, modify the procedures used within departments or authorities to receive such disclosures.

A proper authority may decline to act on a public interest disclosure if it considers that the disclosure is frivolous or vexatious, trivial or lacking in substance or that it has been adequately addressed by another authority. If, after investigation, a proper authority is of the opinion that a public interest disclosure has revealed that a person has engaged, is engaging or proposes to engage in corrupt conduct, public wastage, unlawful reprisal or conduct that amounts to a substantial and specific danger to the health and safety of the public, then the authority shall take such action as is necessary and reasonable to prevent the conduct or reprisal from continuing or from occurring in the future and to discipline any person responsible. The nature of disciplinary action

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