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Wednesday, 13 September 2017
Page: 10285

Mr VAN MANEN (FordeGovernment Whip) (16:36): I seek leave to make a statement.

Leave granted.

Mr VAN MANEN: I'm pleased to rise today and speak on the report of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services on whistleblower protections in the corporate, public and not-for-profit sectors, as has been tabled by the chair of the committee, the member for Swan, who is now acting in the role of Deputy Speaker.

This inquiry was tasked with looking at a wide range of matters in the space of whistleblowing. It looked at effective ways to integrate strong whistleblower protections, at what, if any, compensation arrangements should be put in place and at how these have worked in other jurisdictions. Furthermore, it examined what measures are needed to ensure an effective access to justice for people who make or may make disclosures and then require protection as a whistleblower in the sectors I mentioned earlier.

I believe there are two key considerations that must be made in considering the legislation around whistleblowing. Firstly, why is it so important? Secondly, how do we protect whistleblowers both when they come forward and afterwards? It was clear from many submissions and witness testimonies that whistleblowing is critical for fostering a culture of accountability, integrity and transparency. I want to make the point that it remains vital as a strong deterrent against misconduct, fraud and corruption. This was made particularly clear regarding information provided to the committee by the Australian Federal Police.

The AFP made it very clear that whistleblowers play an important role in detecting serious financial crime that is often sophisticated, well concealed or part of a culture of secrecy. Furthermore, the AFP noted that, due to the nature of such crimes, there is a very low likelihood of them being uncovered by law enforcement at all unless whistleblowers feel secure in coming forward. This is a great example of why ensuring we have a robust framework around whistleblowing is so important. The AFP said the types of matters where whistleblowers become vital players in criminal investigations include foreign bribery, serious tax crime, identity crime, corporate and government corruption and serious fraud offences. Yet, despite there being a generally positive view of whistleblowing, it was pointed out to the committee that being a whistleblower is rarely easy or glamorous and can often involve great risk both publicly and personally to the person speaking out. Perhaps inevitably, then, evidence showed current protections for whistleblowers remain not as robust as they could be. So the recommendations in the report and the legislation ultimately introduced must have practical effects in both the public and the private sector, enabling effective investigation and avenues of appeal in cases of retaliation against a whistleblower.

Whistleblowing, in my view, is an essential part of our democracy. We're well aware that free speech and the importance of protecting and even advocating it has been high on the public agenda, but Australians in any workplace or in any sector must also have the ability to speak out and governments must act to protect the capacity of those people to do so. The committee has recommended that the public sector whistleblowing protection legislation remain in one act, while the various private sector whistleblowing protection legislation be brought together in another single act but separate from the first one. It is also recommended that the government examine options for ensuring ongoing harmony between the whistleblowing protections in these respective acts. This is important because, as outlined in the hearings, a recent analysis of whistleblower protections across G20 countries found that, whilst Australia's public sector whistleblowing laws were relatively comprehensive, they were lacking in the private sector. We looked at the establishment of a whistleblowing protection authority, which would be effective in overseeing the implementation of the whistleblower regime in both the public and the private sector.

I join the committee in acknowledging the work on this inquiry that has been greatly assisted by a substantial body of academic work over the past few decades. I also acknowledge the contribution of the witnesses and the submitters who participated and the secretariat for the detailed work they have done to assist us on the committee. I also thank my colleagues on the committee and the chair. I commend this report to the House.