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Wednesday, 13 September 2017
Page: 10284

Mr KEOGH (Burt) (16:32): 'Dobbers kiss robbers' was a catchcry of many school playgrounds around Australia, including mine. Unfortunately, it's this mentality that has made it so hard to detect corporate and other wrongdoing, and it needs to change if Australia is going to clean up its act and stop sliding further down the global Corruption Perceptions Index. It's essential to ensure that corporate, environmental, financial, banking and employer crime, and fraud, corruption and misconduct are stopped. It's also essential to ensure a culture of public accountability and integrity. Encouraging employees to report wrongdoing by their employer, and protecting them when they do, is an important part of preventing corruption in both the private and public sectors. Employees are uniquely placed to recognise misconduct both in the workplace and by their employers; generally, they are often the first to detect illegal behaviour. Unfortunately, all too often those employees don't want to do anything about the misconduct on their own.

For me as a new MP, and I'm sure for the Australian public, the conduct of this inquiry and the report produced by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services is an example of the great work that can and does come from members and senators from across political divides working together to achieve better outcomes for our nation. To that end, I would also like to thank the great assistance given to us by the secretariat and all those who made submissions to the committee.

This consensus whistleblowers report makes significant recommendations that the government should implement to ensure whistleblowers are protected, supported, given guidance and provided with proper opportunities to raise their concerns. A key recommendation is a single piece of legislation for whistleblower protections in the private sector. This will provide clarity and ease of navigation for all. It's also important that the nature of such legislation be harmonised with the existing extensive public sector protections that should also be expanded. While this may not initially occur through a singular public and private sector piece of whistleblower protection legislation, it is my view, and that of my fellow Labor committee members, that it would be preferable if a single piece of legislation was employed to effect the other recommendations of the committee so as to ensure that provisions not only start out harmonised but remain so, as well as to ensure that unnecessary distinctions between the private and public sector are not created when it comes to whistleblowing protections.

Importantly, it is recommended that the scope of whistleblower protections be expanded to apply whenever a current or former employee, contractor or volunteer has a reasonable belief that there has been a breach of any law of the Commonwealth; any law of a state or territory by an entity covered by the Fair Work Act or relating to a constitutional corporation; or an industry code or professional standard with force of law or prescribed as having protections apply. This extended scope is vital to ensure the capacity to expose breaches of, for example, the insurance industry code, the superannuation industry code and many other voluntary industry codes that apply to the financial services sector and many others. It is therefore vitally important that, along with adopting the committee's recommendations, it is prescribed that such codes are picked up by the legislation. Additional obligations will also be placed on law enforcement agencies in their dealing with whistleblowing disclosures as well as a regime for protections when disclosures are made to the media.

Finally, after much consideration, it is the committee's unanimous view that, as well as providing adequate—and, importantly, timely—access to compensation for whistleblowers where required, it is important that they have access to part of the penalties obtained against wrongdoers where successful action against them is taken. These will be determined by a whistleblower protection authority within legislated percentages and will come from the penalties that are imposed by a court. These two recommendations will be a significant shift in Australian law, but a necessary one. This is not only to encourage greater disclosure and enforcement against corporates and financial service wrongdoing but also to incentivise firms to ensure they have appropriate and genuinely functioning internal disclosure mechanisms, and this is now the case in many jurisdictions.

I strongly encourage the government to promptly attend to implementing all of the recommendations of the committee. I commend the report to the House.