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Thursday, 29 May 1997
Page: 4050

Senator MURPHY(7.01 p.m.) —As the chairman of the Select Committee on Unresolved Whistleblower Cases I would just like to say a few words with regard to the 63rd report of the Committee of Privileges. I do not want to criticise the report but I do want to say that the process of dealing with the whistleblowers' cases, both in the first select committee process and indeed the unresolved whistleblowers' cases committee process, was a little disappointing because it had a political approach and process for the committee to deal with.

I think the intent of the motion that came to the Senate to set up the select committee was politically motivated. This was unfortunate because, at the end of the day, we all ought to have been about trying to help whistleblowers and seeing, in the long term, that some form of uniform legislation be introduced that would provide protection for whistleblowers around the country.

There were some very concerning aspects that we dealt with on that committee. But while I say there was some political motivation, so far as the people who came before the committee and provided evidence were concerned, their intent and their motivation was nothing other than to seek out the truth in an endeavour to bring about a process whereby, if people did identify wrongdoing, they would be accorded the protection that ought to be available to them and that still is not.

In Queensland, which was where the principal cases the committee had to deal with were, the Queensland government—probably again for political reasons—said it would initiate a further inquiry in respect of the shredding of the Heiner documents, which was one of the cases we had to deal with. I think there was some very clear evidence that there were problems associated with that case. Personally, I do not think that the shredding of the documents was done with any intended malice; but it created a problem of itself. The Queensland government—that is, the National Party government—said it was going to take a course of action. As I understand it, it still has not done anything.

I do not think that the process in so far as whistleblowers are concerned around this country—

Senator Woodley —They had a free kick.

Senator MURPHY —Senator Woodley says that they had a free kick but they obviously did not take the opportunity to have it. I do not think they will.

I think protection of whistleblowers around this country ought to be the responsibility of all governments. I think all senators who were members of the select committee chaired by Senator Newman agreed on a recommendation of that committee's report that there ought to be uniform legislation. And so there should be; it should not matter where people are. It should also have application in the private sector because there are some pretty important areas that have been reported. We have seen evidence in a whole host of areas. Whether in the public sector in relation to police or public expenditure through departmental systems et cetera, there are problems. There are people who may like to take the opportunity to make the people responsible aware of wrongdoing and they ought to be afforded protection. If they are not then you will allow a system of corruption to continue and probably grow.

Whilst this report found that there was not possible false or misleading evidence given to the committee—and I accept that is their finding—across the board there were some problems with regard to that case and a whole host of other cases. People have suffered terribly. One particular person I can recall in my own state is a bloke who wrote to the Premier of the day—a Labor Premier—about the Tasmania Bank, which was a state owned bank. His efforts probably saved the bank. He certainly saved the government a lot of money—probably tens of millions of dollars—but he lost his job as a result. He still does not have a job.

It is that sort of thing that people have been confronted with. It is for that reason alone that we ought to make some efforconstitutionin terms of bringing about a process where we have uniform legislation so that people can achieve at least some sort of justice because, at the moment, there is no justice.

We have seen legislation introduced around Australia of varying types and offering protection in varying degrees. An example of that is the legislation that was introduced in South Australia in a case that had been going on for a long time. The South Australian legislation proposed that, if you were aware of a wrongdoing that had happened 10 years ago, you could come forward and report it but, if you were the subject of having brought forward evidence of wrongdoing and you had somehow suffered as a consequence of doing that, you could not appeal under the new legislation for justice—to have your case re-heard.

That really highlights the problem with this sort of approach, and I hope that sometime in the future we will get legislation that will be agreed nationally—like we did when we at least showed some initiative in trying to get uniform legislation on firearms. I am not saying I agreed with all of that, but at least we made the right effort in dealing with that particular issue and we took the right steps to implement uniform legislation in an area which was very important.

In taking note of the report, I hope that the government—and indeed all senators and members—will give consideration to whistleblower legislation in the future. I hope we will see some process of justice being afforded to people around the country who have acted responsibly and reported a wrongdoing and thereby, quite often, saved the community and/or a business a huge amount of money.