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Tuesday, 19 February 2019
Page: 13879

Mr ROBERT (FaddenAssistant Treasurer) (13:11): I thank all those members who've contributed to the debate. The Treasury Laws Amendment (Enhancing Whistleblower Protections) Bill 2018 amends the Corporations Act 2001 and the Taxation Administration Act 1953 to strengthen Australia's corporate and tax whistleblower protections. Strengthening the protections to allow whistleblowers to come forward will assist the regulators to receive information earlier, investigate contraventions, take appropriate enforcement action and limit the risk of loss to investors. Importantly, these changes will help to ensure public trust and confidence in the integrity of the financial system.

Corporate crime is estimated to cost Australia more than $8½ billion a year and accounts for approximately 40 per cent of the total cost of crime in Australia. Whistleblowing plays a critical role in uncovering misconduct and criminal activity. It may also improve poor compliance cultures by ensuring that companies, officers and staff know that the risk of misconduct being reported is far higher. In December 2016 the government announced, as part of the Open Government National Action Plan, that it would ensure that appropriate protections are in place for people who report corruption, fraud, tax evasion or avoidance, and misconduct in the corporate sector. The commitment in the Open Government National Action Plan also reaffirmed the government's 2016-17 budget announcement that it would introduce new arrangements to better protect individuals who disclose information to the Australian tax office on tax avoidance behaviour and other tax issues to further strengthen the integrity of Australia's tax system. This bill delivers on those commitments.

Part 1 of the bill will strengthen protection for corporate whistleblowers by expanding protections to a broader class of persons; expand disclosures that can be protected; extend protections to cover emergency and public interest disclosures, subject to preconditions; exclude from protection disclosures of purely personal or work related grievances; improve access to compensation for whistleblowers, including improvements in civil remedies for whistleblowers; and create new civil penalties to make enforcement action easier. The bill introduces a whistleblower policy requirement for all large companies.

A statutory review of the operation of the whistleblower protections within both the Corporations Act and the Taxation Administration Act will be required five years after the commencement date of the bill.

The bill amalgamates protections across several acts into the Corporations Act. The consolidation will cover the Australian Securities and Investments Commission Act 2001, the Banking Act 1959, the Insurance Act 1973, the Life Insurance Act 1995 and the Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Act 1993 as well as adding protections for conduct that contravenes the National Consumer Credit Protection Act 2009 and the Financial Sector (Collection of Data) Act 2001, which were not covered under the existing law.

Part 2 of the bill will introduce new protections for whistleblowers under the taxation law. These protections are broadly consistent with the enhanced protections under the Corporations Act and facilitate disclosures about tax misconduct.

Together these reforms will help protect whistleblowers who may expose themselves to significant personal and financial risk in return for their critical role in the early detection and prosecution of misconduct in businesses and avoidance or evasion of tax liabilities. Benefits will also be derived by the Australian business community, as the reforms will encourage improved corporate governance and integrity through the whistleblower policy prescription for large companies and increase the likelihood of misconduct being reported. The measures contained in the bill have been extensively consulted upon and have the strong support of a number of peak bodies and regulators, including the AFP, ATO and ASIC. I commend the bill to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.