The Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee called for sumbissions on the Public Interest Disclosure Bill 2013.
RoLIA’s submission made the following recommendations on the bill:
- RoLIA welcomes the legislation and emphasises the importance of protecting whistleblowers, the media and independent parliamentarians in providing scrutiny of government. This is an essential aspect of free speech.
- The definition of “public interest disclosure” is too narrow and excludes important areas of conduct from public scrutiny (see Division 1 of Part 2 and Division 2 of Part 2)
- The definition of “disclosable conduct” does not include conduct by members of parliament and their staff. In RoLIA’s view it should include conduct by them. Their exclusion presents a significant limitation to the application of the Bill, and is a missed opportunity to encourage greater faith and accountability in the political process.
- Intelligence agencies are also excluded from the definition of disclosable conduct. A broad exemption is inappropriate considering the powers of these agencies and the sensitive information which they handle. RoLIA suggests a more tightly drafted exception.
- The requirement for a whistleblower to hold a belief “on reasonable grounds” that the conduct is based on improper motives. Whistleblowers’ beliefs ought not to matter. The issue is whether it appears that there is disclosable conduct.
- Clause 48 of the Bill allows the principal officer of an agency to decide not to investigate or continue to investigate a disclosure. While RoLIA accepts the need for some discretion to investigate it needs to be narrowly expressed.
- The Bill places significant barriers in the way of making disclosures to the media or other external parties such as members of parliament. This area of the Bill is too complex and the extent to which a whilstleblower could afford or disclose information in the process of seeking legal advice about disclosure is too limited.
- RoLIA proposes that the ACT Whistleblower’s legislation provides a more appropriate model for external disclosures.
RoLIA submits that the Bill in its current form does not meet its objectives. It is inconsistent with its stated intentions of encouraging accountability of government and facilitating disclosures. The Bill seems to focus more on ensuring disclosures remain tightly controlled, confidential, and away from media scrutiny.