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Friday, August 24, 2012

ACT whistleblower protections, new best practice standard

The ACT Assembly passed the Public Interest Disclosure Bill 2012 yesterday, to acclaim from the leading expert on such things, Professor A.J. Brown of Griffith University, writing in The Canberra Times:
It is historic legislation, improving on recent reforms in Queensland and NSW, and providing the country's clearest regime for ensuring public agencies listen to their people, take action to protect them, and ''ensure just outcomes … including by preventing and remedying the effect of detrimental action''. It also extends the circumstances where, if systems are not in place to deal with wrongdoing raised via official channels, insiders can go to the media.  So far, in NSW and Queensland, the newer legislation covers whistleblowers who go to the media as a last resort. This, too, is included in the ACT bill, with some helpful new safeguards and thresholds to guide whistleblowers and agencies on when this is acceptable. But as well, the ACT act is the first to make explicit what many Australians expect - that when it comes to serious public interest matters, if there is really no safe official channel available, we would prefer that a whistleblower go public than stay silent. The act provides that if a public servant can't reasonably use any official channels without ''significant risk'' of reprisal, they will still be protected if they go straight to the media.
Highlighting also inaction, and the way forward, for those just over the lake:

The big question for Canberra residents - especially if you are a federal public servant - is when the Commonwealth government is finally going to follow. Every day, it becomes more obvious why effective federal whistleblowing rules are needed..... The newer legislation, especially the ACT act, can help provide solutions to the federal government on how to catch up with other governments, and put in place stronger systems for acting on such information. It is also not enough just for authorities to listen - they have to protect and support those who speak up. A key issue for the ACT remains more effective, low-cost avenues for ensuring that mistreated whistleblowers are properly compensated, and able to get on with their lives and careers - but this is also something only the Commonwealth can help solve, under the Fair Work Act. After two years of inaction, the federal government has everything it needs to forge the solutions needed to deliver on its commitments. It will be another historic day - and another government with rare historic vision - which finally sees federal whistleblower protection rules come to pass.

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