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Tuesday, 19 February 2019
Page: 13871


Mr GOSLING (Solomon) (12:26): I also rise to speak on the Treasury Laws Amendment (Enhancing Whistleblower Protections) Bill 2018. As the member for Paterson just said, we need to do better. The government needs to do a lot better. The bill is welcome, but it doesn't go far enough. I will outline some of that.

Firstly, I just wanted to congratulate the Leader of the Opposition, the shadow Attorney-General and the member for Hotham for their work. The member for Hotham, in some of her comments, also pointed to someone else who needs acknowledgement. That was Jeff Morris. She said:

… we probably wouldn't have a banking royal commission if we didn't have whistleblowers like Jeff Morris who were willing to make disclosures under a regime that didn't provide proper protections.

I also want to acknowledge Jeff Morris's courage. It's also a credit to the member for Hotham that she acknowledged the improvement of this bill through the amendments that were negotiated by the Centre Alliance. Well done to the Centre Alliance MP, the member for Mayo. I listened to what the member for Mayo had to say yesterday. She also acknowledged the significant role of Jeff Morris.

For me, I think Jeff Morris was an Australian of the Year in many ways. Of course, I want to acknowledge the courage and the marvellous work of the two Australians, the cave divers, for their courage. Also, I want to acknowledge the NT Australian of the Year, my friend Michael Long, for his enormous courage. But I think it's worth noting that Jeff Morris also showed significant courage.

I think that whistleblowers were the unsung heroes of the recent Hayne royal commission. Too often, whistleblowers bear the personal cost of making public interest disclosures. The tragedy of their predicament lies in the fact that whistleblowers should never have been required to take such risks in the first place. Ideally, organisations and corporations should embrace those who identify and name the discontinuities between the espoused and the lived values and principles that lie at the very heart of all ethical failures. But, alas, we do not live in an ideal world; thus our need, as legislators, to now protect those who have the courage to declare that the emperor has no clothes. We need to do that. This bill goes towards doing that, but there's a lot more that needs to be done that Labor has committed to.

When the emperor has no clothes and there is a need to speak truth to power, when someone observes that what is happening in an organisation or corporation is not right, then they need to speak up. We need to be able to protect them, because a problem was found—it was already known by many—through the banking royal commission, a royal commission that was voted against by those opposite 26 times in this place. That was the protection racket that those opposite were responsible for. Twenty-six times they wanted to continue to cover up. Keep in mind, please, also that for three years those opposite fought to give a handout of $17 billion to the banks that have now been proven to have been engaging in conduct most uncommon. It was not all the banks, not all the executives, but certainly it is a big issue. These are big organisations with a lot of power, so it makes Jeff Morris's courage even more outstanding.

The problem is that we have, as other speakers have said, a complex whistleblowing regime. It's split across a range of legislation and it provides inadequate support for whistleblowers. There was a need for this bill because the threat of reprisals against people like Jeff Morris is high. Many whistleblowers lose their jobs, and it has been very difficult for many whistleblowers to get adequate compensation. Labor has committed $3.2 million over the forward estimates to immediately set up the whistleblower protection authority within the office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman. It would house five full-time positions dedicated to assisting whistleblowers through the disclosure process. These positions would help whistleblowers navigate the current disclosure process, assist them with finding the right agency to report to, provide them with the right advice on their rights and options for redress, and help to promote broad awareness in the community about Australia's whistleblowing regime.

We also recognise that there is a need to have some sort of reward system for whistleblowers, and that's why, again—if and when elected—Labor would establish a rewards scheme. Following the imposition of a penalty against a wrongdoer by a court or other body that may impose such a penalty, the relevant investigative agency or prescribed law enforcement agency would be able to give a reward to any relevant whistleblower. The relevant agencies would have discretion to determine the reward within a legislated range of percentages of the penalty imposed against the wrongdoer. The relevant agencies would consider a range of factors, including the degree to which a whistleblower's information led to the imposition of the penalty on the wrongdoer, the timeliness with which the disclosure was made, the context of the disclosure and any reprisals and any involvement by the whistleblower in the conduct for which the penalty was imposed. The range of percentages of the penalties will be determined during the detailed design phase in government if—when—in the future we're elected.

As I said, this bill does go some way, but we need to do more. We need to do better. My friend the member for Fenner writes some truly excellent op-eds, and I was reading one recently that was in TheSydney Morning Herald entitled 'The Golden Whistle'. He made the observation about the need for rewards systems and the benefits of reward systems when it comes to whistleblower schemes:

A recent study of Israel's tax whistleblowing scheme concluded that it significantly increased the amount of tax paid; particularly in industries that are more prone to tax evasion. The scheme had a powerful deterrent effect on tax dodging. Once firms knew that there was an incentive for employees to report wrongdoing, they were more inclined to pay what they owed. Tax revenue increased by more than one-quarter.

I acknowledge that today we've been acknowledging the 70th anniversary of our relationship with Israel. In that country, where similar incentive schemes for whistleblowers have been enacted, there has been a one-quarter increase in tax revenue. Imagine what we could do as a nation for Australians if we had the tax that isn't being paid because of people who are wrongly evading paying tax. We could do an incredible amount. We could do an absolutely incredible amount, like supporting pensioners. When Labor were last in government, we increased the pension by a record margin. Those opposite recently—

An honourable member interjecting

Mr GOSLING: I take the interjection—have been cutting supplements pensioners received. I digress. I just wanted to acknowledge that good work by the shadow Assistant Treasurer, the member for Fenner, who is always looking to bring more clarity and more evidence from around the world to the issues that this House deals with. This area of whistleblowing is something on which he continues to do that.

I think what some of the other members, including some of the members opposite—I was here in the House yesterday listening to this debate when the member for Forde made some great comments, I thought. He made some honest comments, and what struck me when these comments were made was the lack of trust in government, the lack of trust in lawmakers and the despicable behaviour by people that was uncovered through the banking royal commission. So I acknowledge the comments that that member of the government made and also those of the member for Parramatta, who I listened to as she relayed feedback from her constituents as she got around on the doors.

From Parramatta to Darwin and the people that I represent in this place, it's the same. People believe that some of our most important institutions are lacking credibility, but I assure them, at least in speaking for those on this side, that we are intent on rebuilding the ethical infrastructure of our country. What we will do in this space goes to exactly that. Whilst this bill is good, it doesn't go far enough. We support it, but it doesn't go far enough. We will go further in order to send a strong message to those who feel a dilemma because they know that something's going wrong and they want to report it. Those people we will protect. But we also want to send a message to those who seek not to pay their fair share that that won't be tolerated.

In the time that is remaining, I just want to acknowledge that there are a whole lot of people—some may even be listening to this. Or some listening to this may be trying to mentor or help someone through a difficult situation at their workplace. What I want to do in the time remaining is relay a good experience that I've had that has helped me work through a moral dilemma, a difficult ethical situation. It was an initiative that was started by the St James Ethics Centre. It's no longer run by them directly. It's an independent initiative, which has been going for about 20 years, called Ethi-call.

Ethi-call is a free, independent, national helpline, available to all Australians, which provides expert and impartial guidance to help you make your way through life's tough challenges. As I understand it, it is the only service of its kind in the world. Whether you are facing an ethical issue that is of a personal nature or a professional nature, it is a free service that is there not to give you legal advice but to help you work through the dilemma that you're facing. It's available day and night, seven days a week, by appointment. The laws that we are passing are designed to provide more protection to whistleblowers. But I wanted to let those listening know that, if they are facing a very difficult situation, they are not alone. Go to www.ethics.org.au and, with someone, you can work through that dilemma you may be facing.