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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1996 Week 9 Hansard (29 August) . . Page.. 2749 ..

MRS CARNELL (continuing):

However, it is important to recognise that informants should be able to turn to an independent agency for assistance. An informant who is unhappy with the way a disclosure is dealt with can currently go to the Ombudsman to see whether there is any further cause for complaint. The proposed changes make it clear that the Auditor-General is also an appropriate source of independent advice and action.

The Bill applies some existing provisions that define the review and scrutiny role of the Ombudsman to the Auditor-General. This reflects the important role of the Auditor-General and the fact that there are already substantial powers for financial and performance auditing under the new Auditor-General Act 1996. It is important to direct these powers, where necessary, to the investigation of public interest disclosures. Existing provisions permit the Ombudsman to act on disclosures in circumstances where it is inappropriate to refer a matter to the relevant agency. Other related provisions deal with taking account of Ombudsman recommendations or restricting an agency's discretion to decline to act on disclosures referred to the agency by the Ombudsman. The Bill extends these provisions to the Auditor-General.

Some provisions are not extended to the Auditor-General. Under existing provisions, when agencies receive disclosures that do not relate to their own activities, they should refer them to the relevant agency. However, where reference to another agency carries with it a risk of reprisal or prejudice, agencies must refer these cases to the Ombudsman. This is not changed, as it should be quite clear what happens in these circumstances - two sources of reference confuse the scheme. The Ombudsman may also act on behalf of victims of reprisal and seek on their behalf an injunction to stop reprisal action. This is not a role appropriately carried out by the Auditor-General.

The second set of amendments is to section 17 of the Act. This provision permits agencies to decline to act on disclosures where the matter is frivolous or vexatious; is misconceived or lacking in substance; has been adequately dealt with by the receiving agency or another agency; or is an attempt to reopen a matter already dealt with by a court or tribunal. The Bill makes some minor amendments to this provision. One change is to the ground which permits matters to be declined where they have been dealt with by another agency.The terminology is changed so that it applies where a matter has been dealt with adequately, not just by another agency. Circumstances may arise where disclosures cover subject matter that has been dealt with by, for example, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission or the Merit Protection and Review Agency. This situation does not clearly fall within the existing provision, and it is sensible to leave this option open. A further discretion is included. This is to permit agencies to decline to act on disclosures where there is a more appropriate remedy reasonably available. The Act has a wide ambit, which is quite appropriate. As a result, it is possible that the legislation could be used as a forum for individual grievances which might already have more specific and accessible remedies. Again, this is a sensible amendment, and members will find that the amended discretions reflect equivalent provisions in the Ombudsman Act 1989.

Finally, a series of amendments have been made to the terminology used in the Act. These amendments are consequential to changes to the Public Sector Management Act 1994 that changed the employment status of Public Service executives from officers to contract employees. The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1994 is of wide application,

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