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Wednesday, 26 June 2013
Page: 4114


Senator SINODINOS (New South Wales) (13:51): As stated by Senator Brandis, we will be supporting the Public Interest Disclosure Bill 2013 and the Public Interest Disclosure (Consequential Amendments) Bill. I welcome these bills. As someone who has worked in government administration I am well aware of the difficulties whistleblowers face. The fact of the matter is that in many organisations, particularly at the senior levels, you do face a culture of group think and a very strong push towards conforming and telling people up the line what they want to hear. Often, that can lead to a situation where people go along with things that perhaps they should not go along with, and therefore you have a situation where other people of conscience or those who feel strongly about something want to have a capacity to express to someone their concern about what has happened within their organisation. It is always a very sad thing when you feel you cannot go to someone more senior in your organisation in order to make a point or disclose something that you believe should be disclosed. It goes to the point that I think Senator Milne made in her contribution: that, over and above whatever laws we have—and certainly we support the strengthening of the laws in this regard—it is about how you get cultural change in organisations so that people feel they can have the confidence to talk about these matters to more senior people or that all people in the organisation, for want of a better description, share a certain moral compass on issues.

A very big responsibility is placed on the chief executives of organisations and on their boards, to not only talk the talk but also to walk the walk when it comes to these matters. Those who transgress should be seen to be punished, so that everybody within the organisation gets the very strong feeling that those who do wrong will be punished and that senior people will not turn a blind eye to things.

I am aware of a number of whistleblower cases in the past, under both this and the previous government, where it would have benefited those individuals if this legislation had been in place. But, as I say, I think it is quite important that we get cultural change, and that goes to the way that some organisations constitute themselves. It is clear at the federal level that there have been a number of organisations over the years where dysfunction has seemed to continue, for all sorts of reasons, and people on both sides of politics, as ministers or whatever, have been unable to bring those organisations to heel and sort them out. So I think that is an ongoing challenge.

I am also aware of some cases where, as in the case mentioned by Senator Xenophon, I believe the persons involved have some right to feel aggrieved at the way they have been treated. It is not for me to make judgements on the matter here. I cannot go into it. But I do feel the person in question in that case was operating from the best of motives. So we have to support people who are trying to do the right thing. But, as I said, ultimately it is not just about laws; it is about the way organisations conduct themselves, and that is really the responsibility also of the leaders of those organisations.

The PRESIDENT: Order! The time allotted for the consideration of these bills has now expired. The question is that these bills be now read a second time.

Question agreed to.

Bills read a second time.

The PRESIDENT: In respect of the Public Interest Disclosure Bill 2013, the question is that amendments (1) to (10) on sheet 7420, circulated by the Australian Greens, be agreed to.

Australian Greens ' circulated amendments—

(1) Page 22 (after line 7), at the end of Division 1, add:

24A Act of grace payments

(1) The Minister may authorise one or more payments of an amount or amounts specified in the authorisation to a person who has made a public interest disclosure (even though the payment or payments would not otherwise be authorised by law or required to meet a legal liability), if:

(a) the Minister is satisfied that the disclosure resulted in protection or the reclaiming of public money; or

   (b) the Minister considers, in the Minister's absolute discretion, that there are reasons of public interest for making the payment or payments.

(2) Nothing in subsection (1) has the effect of appropriating the Consolidated Revenue Fund for the purposes of making a payment under that subsection.

(2) Clause 31, page 31 (lines 31 to 34), omit paragraph (b).

(3) Clause 36, page 35 (line 29), before "An", insert "(1)".

(4) Clause 36, page 36 (line 3), at the end of the definition of authorised officer, add:

   ; or (c) in the case of a House of the Parliament:

      (i) a Senator or Member who belongs to that House or a public official who belongs to the Finance Department; and

      (ii) is appointed, in writing, by the principal officer of that House (with the agreement of the principal officer of the Finance Department, if the public official belongs to the Finance Department), as an authorised officer for the purposes of this Act.

(5) Clause 36, page 36 (after line 3), at the end of the clause, add:

(2) For the purposes of paragraph (c) of the definition of authorised officer, the Finance Department means the Department administered by the Minister administering the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997.

(6) Clause 41, page 36 (line 7) to page 36 (line 16), omit paragraphs (1)(a) and (b), substitute:

   (a) information that has originated with, or has been received from, an intelligence agency that is about, or that might reveal:

      (i) a source of information; or

      (ii) the technologies or methods used, proposed to be used, or being developed for use, by an intelligence agency to collect, analyse, secure or otherwise deal with, information; or

      (iii) operations that have been, are being, or are proposed to be, undertaken by an intelligence agency;

(7) Clause 41, page 36 (line 32), omit "(b),".

(8) Clause 69, page 61 (after table item 12), insert:

12A

A Senator.

The Senate.

12B

A member of the House of Representatives.

The House of Representatives.

12C

A person employed under the Members of Parliament (Staff) Act 1984 .

Whichever of the following agencies is applicable:

   (a) the Senate;

(b) the House of Representatives.

(9) Clause 71, page 65 (after line 15), after paragraph (b), insert:

   (ba) a House of the Parliament; or

(10) Clause 73, page 67 (after table item 2), insert:

2A

The Senate.

The President of the Senate.

2B

The House of Representatives.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives.

 

Question negatived.