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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2018 Week 07 Hansard (Wednesday, 1 August 2018) . . Page.. 2558 ..

accountability or integrity. They do not care about the lives of individuals who have been damaged as a result of making legitimate public interest disclosures.

Today I am calling on the government to produce an ACT-wide public service report on the state of public interest disclosure laws so that they can no longer ignore the facts. This report, I firmly believe, will illustrate not only the gross indifference of the government but just how dire the situation is. This report is the first step on the long road to reforming public interest disclosure laws in the territory. It is a necessary and vital step to ensure that those who have been fearful of speaking out against maladministration, corruption, bullying or harassment are not only able to have their voices heard but are also protected in doing so.

There is evidence from other jurisdictions showing that this can be an easy and simple fix. First and foremost, top to bottom cultural change is required regarding the perception of whistleblowing. We need to create a culture of “if in doubt, report” across all directorates to greatly increase not only the number of reports but also the confidence of individuals in reporting wrongdoing.

This is the culture the government must foster across our public service. Changes to whistleblowing laws federally resulted in an explosion in the number of cases being reported and regarded as public interest disclosures. It has been estimated that, following legislative changes in 2014, over 380 disclosures were made within the first six months, whilst an additional 288 reports were made that were not considered to be disclosures.

Contrast this with only 17 reports in 2017 across all of the ACT public service directorates, only seven of which were referred for investigation. The federal laws are not perfect, but we can learn from them and do better. Under the current territory legislation, disclosures are referred, investigated and handled internally by directorates. This must change. It is well documented that these internal investigatory mechanisms, having departments and directorates investigate themselves, not only create but also encourage a culture of bullying and harassment of those who have made disclosures.

An independent body able to receive, investigate and deliver outcomes would serve to reduce the likelihood of personal and professional backlash for whistleblowers. Furthermore, data from a review of federal legislation indicates that the current legislative frameworks are insufficiently focused on restitution, especially financial compensation, as a response to adverse outcomes, as opposed to criminal remedies, and are widely ineffective and inappropriate in the majority of cases.

Reforms to compensation would not only serve to reduce the instances of bullying, as a result of placing financial burdens on those accused of abuse to compensate; they would alleviate some of the stress and pain that victims experience during this difficult process. Therefore, it is vital that we start educating individuals and directorates, streamlining the reporting processes to an external agency with powers to investigate and determine outcomes, and simplifying the means by which compensation can be sought and achieved.

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