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Wednesday, 29 May 2013
Page: 4231


Mr DREYFUS (IsaacsAttorney-General, Minister for Emergency Management, Minister for the Public Service and Integrity and Special Minister of State) (10:08): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I am pleased today to introduce the Public Interest Disclosure (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2013. This bill will amend a number of acts in support of the scheme in the Public Interest Disclosure Bill 2013, which I introduced into the House of Representatives on 21 March 2013.

The Public Interest Disclosure Bill is the first stand-alone whistleblower protection scheme at the federal level. It will establish a comprehensive scheme to support disclosure of wrongdoing in the Commonwealth public sector, and to make sure that reports of suspected wrongdoing are properly investigated and responded to. Public officials who report wrongdoing in accordance with the scheme will have robust protections so that they do not suffer adverse consequences for making a report.

The Commonwealth Ombudsman and the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security will have oversight functions for the public interest disclosure scheme. Amendments proposed in the Public Interest Disclosure (Consequential Amendments) Bill will support this oversight function. The Ombudsman will be able to investigate a public interest disclosure made to the Ombudsman where the wrongful conduct relates to an agency that is not an intelligence agency or the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security. The Ombudsman will also be able to investigate handling by agencies of public interest disclosures.

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security will be able to investigate a public interest disclosure made to the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security where the wrongful conduct relates to an intelligence agency. The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security will also be able to inquire into the handling of public interest disclosures by intelligence agencies. The Ombudsman and the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security will be able to undertake these investigations under their establishing legislation.

These investigative functions are complemented by other measures in the Public Interest Disclosure Bill. The Ombudsman will assist agencies and public officials on the operation of the scheme, including through the conduct of educational and awareness programs. It is very important that agencies and officials have a clear understanding of how the scheme works in order for it to operate effectively. The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security will be able to assist intelligence agencies and public officials who belong to those agencies. The Ombudsman will be able to determine standards addressing procedures for dealing with public interest disclosure, the conduct of investigations and the preparation of reports. Agencies will also need to give the Ombudsman certain information about public interest disclosures, which will be published in an annual report.

Consistent with the intention to create a single comprehensive scheme to promote inquiry and investigation into wrongdoing in the Commonwealth public sector, amendments proposed in this bill will repeal existing provisions in the Public Service Act 1999 and the Parliamentary Service Act 1999 dealing with whistleblower protections.

The scheme will allow a public official to make a disclosure within their agency, to the Ombudsman, to the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, if the conduct relates to an intelligence agency or to a prescribed investigative agency. Upon being prescribed, statutory office holders with investigative powers, such as the Public Service Commissioner, the Merit Protection Commissioner and the Commissioner for Law Enforcement Integrity, will be able to conduct investigations where they have existing power to do so. The scheme will be flexible, allowing for disclosures to be transferred to agencies that are best placed to investigate them.

Amendments in the bill will preserve a function for the Public Service Commissioner and the Merit Protection Commissioner to inquire into public interest disclosures relating to alleged breaches of the Australian Public Service Code of Conduct. A similar amendment is proposed to preserve a function for the Parliamentary Service Commissioner and Parliamentary Service Merit Protection Commissioner to inquire into public interest disclosures relating to alleged breaches of the Parliamentary Service Code of Conduct.

I foreshadow that I intend to introduce government amendments to the Public Interest Disclosure Bill shortly. I also welcome the report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs, following its inquiry into the Public Interest Disclosure Bill, which was tabled by the member for Moreton yesterday. I will be considering their report carefully.

This bill, together with Public Interest Disclosure Bill, will serve to strengthen the integrity and accountability of the Australian government public sector.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.