Page 3362 - Week 08 - Thursday, 23 August 2012

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Public Interest Disclosure Bill 2012

Debate resumed from 7 June 2012, on motion by Mr Barr, on behalf of Ms Gallagher:

That this bill be agreed to in principle.

MR SESELJA (Molonglo—Leader of the Opposition) (11.50): The Canberra Liberals will be supporting this bill today. I would like to emphasise that public interest disclosure legislation should at its heart encourage individuals to report wrongdoing. I should also say at the outset that changing legislation will not mean a change in culture, and it is the culture that has been rotten under ACT Labor when it comes to whistleblowers. I will come to that in a few moments.

PID legislation occupies a unique space between the need to maintain confidentiality and the responsibility to disclose practices that are conducted outside the best interests of the public. The Canberra Liberals’ position on such matters is clear. Whistleblowers are people who strive to do the right thing and bring community attention to wrongdoings, and as such should be protected. This hits home to the core of what it means to foster good public administration.

In this regard, the Canberra Liberals believe that government functions at its best when it has as its main priority the objective to serve the community and is open to public scrutiny. That was why, as early as last October, one of our first policy releases included a commitment to establish a truly independent ACT Public Administration Commission to ensure that our public servants are supported in being the best local government in Australia. The Canberra Liberals are committed to fostering a public service that is able to give frank and fearless advice to government without negative consequences, as has been the case with this present administration.

I would like to note several key elements in this bill. Clause 7 establishes the meaning of public interest disclosure. Interestingly, it does not count policy disagreements to be included in PID.

Clause 11 identifies the Commissioner for Public Administration, the Ombudsman and the Auditor-General as disclosure officers, noting that in practice these officers will refer PID to the responsible entity before they conduct their own investigations. Can I say that clause again, without the reforms that the Canberra Liberals propose to make about an independent position, sees one of those officers being answerable to ministers not independent from government. We believe that is less than adequate.

Clause 12 notes that PID not only involves the entity and its officials but also other persons that affect the functions of the entity, for example, contractors. Clause 15 specifies the most likely scenario to make a PID is to speak with one’s immediate supervisor or manager. Clause 16 notes that a PID disclosure can be made in any way, even inadvertently. Clause 18 offers that the entity responsible for the subject matter of disclosure should investigate a disclosure internally. Clause 20 allows for the investigating entity not to investigate. A possible example could be the age of the disclosed information.

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