The act currently provides protection for whistleblowers in the APS. The regulations provide the framework under which whistleblower reports are handled.The bill makes two small amendments to the scheme. It provides a specific regulation-making power and allows for matters to be excluded from inquiry, including those that relate to an employee's own employment. Such complaints are better directed to the existing review of action scheme.
What is proposed are changes to processes associated with a whistleblower who reports a breach of the APS Code of Conduct. There are more than two proposed changes but the minister's reference to "small changes" was well chosen. "Comprehensive" or "far-reaching" would not have come to mind- see below for relevant extracts from the Explanatory Memorandum.
Minister Gray's four sentences air-brush the following history:
- ALP commitment to act on whistleblower protection prior to 2007 election. (They also talked then about justice for Allan Kessing, but that's another incomplete story.)
- House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs (Dreyfus) asked to examine models in 2008 and reported in 2009.
- Government responded to the recommendations in March 2010 in a reasonably positive manner and went a bit further than the committee in some respects, including on public disclosures. Then attorney general McClelland said at the time “The Government supports a pro-disclosure culture in the Australian public sector, underpinned by enhanced whistleblower protection mechanisms, as part of its commitment to integrity in Australian governance. Whistleblower protection is about ensuring that there are appropriate processes in place, and protections offered, to facilitate the disclosure of wrongdoing, misconduct and corruption. The Government is committed to providing best-practice legislation to achieve this end. The Government will develop legislation reflecting this Government response for introduction during this year.(ie 2010). A further announcement about the legislation will be made in due course.”
- The Gillard agreement in September 2010 with Andrew Wilkie to enable formation of her government included a commitment that parliament would pass the law by July 2011.
- The Australian Public Service Commission State of the Service Report 2010-2011 released in November 2011: "The government is finalising the Public Interest Disclosure Bill. The legislation is intended to set up a scheme that provides for the investigation of unacceptable conduct in the Australian Government sector and extend the protections available to people reporting wrongdoing. The legislation is expected to be introduced to parliament in 2011."