Page 575 - Week 02 - Thursday, 20 February 2020

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The bill also removes ACTPS employment disputes from the scope of the PID Act. This step was a clear recommendation of the final report and was taken after careful consideration of multiple submissions to the review which raised the issue of the PID Act being used by some public service employees to report employment disputes rather than conduct that the act is intended to cover. This change will assist in clearly establishing which matters are, and are not, within the scope of a public interest disclosure and will result in the PID Act having a clearer focus on maladministration, substantial and specific danger to public health or safety, or substantial and specific danger to the environment.

The independent reviewers also recommended that a more expansive definition of maladministration be adopted, with consideration given to models in use in other jurisdictions. A clearer definition of maladministration has been adopted in the bill, which will assist disclosers and disclosure officers to determine if the matter they are concerned about is maladministration resulting in a substantial mismanagement of public resources or public funds or maladministration involving substantial mismanagement in the performance of official functions.

To reduce the complexity of the disclosure process, the bill provides that the Integrity Commissioner will assess all disclosures to create a single point of oversight and decision-making. This step has been taken to simplify existing arrangements, which were consistently raised in submissions to the review as being overly complex. The new arrangements will see disclosures made first to a disclosure officer and if there are reasonable grounds referred to the Integrity Commissioner.

The Integrity Commissioner will then assess whether the disclosure is a public interest disclosure and, if so, determine if the matter should be investigated by the Integrity Commission, whether the matter should be referred to another entity for investigation, or whether the matter should be dismissed. This approach will provide consistency in the first assessment of disclosures and recognises the Integrity Commission as the pre-eminent element of the integrity framework in the ACT. Importantly, it also creates a central data collection point.

The bill introduces a public interest test so that the wrongdoing that is disclosed must affect others and be genuinely in the public interest. This means that the discloser will not be solely or personally affected by the disclosure matter. This was another key recommendation of the independent review. With the introduction of a public interest test and the exclusion of personal employment-related grievances from the scope of the act, disclosers should rarely have a personal interest in the outcome of any investigation into the matter they raise, beyond wanting wrongdoing addressed.

The Integrity Commissioner will have the power to refer a matter to several entities for investigation, including the head of the public sector entity the matter refers to, the head of service, the Public Standards Commissioner, the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner or the Ombudsman. The conduct of members of the Legislative Assembly and their staff remains within the scope of the PID Act. Matters will be considered by the Integrity Commissioner in the first instance, with the ability to refer to either the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner or the Speaker if the disclosure relates to MLAs or their staffers.

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