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Wednesday, 13 September 2017
Page: 10282

Mr IRONS (Swan) (16:26): On behalf of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services, I present the committee's report, entitled Whistleblower protections.

Report made a parliamentary paper in accordance with standing order 39(e).

Mr IRONS: by leave—On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Corporations and Financial Services, I present the committee's report on its inquiry into whistleblower protections. The inquiry into whistleblower protections was referred to the committee by the Senate on 30 November 2016.

There were 75 submissions received by the committee and we conducted five public hearings—one in Brisbane, one in Melbourne, and three in Canberra—to provide individuals and organisations the opportunity to provide evidence to the committee.

The committee's work on this inquiry was also greatly assisted by a substantial body of academic work over the past two decades on whistleblower protections, and I notice Professor AJ Brown is in the gallery. He did some fine work for the committee and presented on numerous occasions to the committee, and I thank him for that.

The committee used the best-practice guidelines set out in the Breaking the silence report as a systematic basis for conducting this inquiry and structuring this report.

Australian academic Professor Brown brought the report to the committee's attention and has been a leading researcher into whistleblowing. I understand Professor Brown, as I just said, is in the chamber this afternoon, so again I thank him for his work.

The committee found that effective whistleblowing protection is essential in both fostering integrity and accountability, and also deterring and exposing misconduct, fraud and corruption.

It became evident early on in our inquiry that while Australia's public sector whistleblowing laws were relatively comprehensive, they were lacking within the private sector.

The Moss review has also identified areas where public sector whistleblowing legislation would benefit from reform.

The committee heard evidence which noted gaps in our current laws, making it very difficult:

to protect whistleblowers from reprisals;

to hold those responsible for reprisals to account;

to effectively investigate alleged reprisals; and

for whistleblowers to seek redress from reprisals.

Through evidence received it became obvious there were significant inconsistencies—not only between various pieces of Commonwealth public and private sector whistleblower legislation, but also across the various pieces of legislation that apply to different parts of the private sector.

One of the committee's main recommendations is that the public sector whistleblower protection legislation remain in a separate act and all private whistleblower protection legislation be brought together within a private single act, and I'm sure the members opposite will have comments about that as well.

Subsequently, the committee has recommended that the government examine options to ensure ongoing harmony and alignment between whistleblower protections in the respective public and private sector acts.

The committee also recommended the establishment of a whistleblower protection authority to be housed as a single body or within an existing body, that can:

support whistleblowers;

assess and prioritise the treatment of whistleblowing allegations;

conduct investigations of reprisals; and

oversight of the implementation of the whistleblower regime for both the public and private sectors.

In addition to this, the committee has also made important recommendations on:

the definition of disclosable conduct;

thresholds for protection;

internal and external reporting channels;

provisions for anonymous reporting; and

protections from, and remedies and sanctions for, reprisals.

I'd like to thank all of those who have contributed to this inquiry into whistleblower protections.

Whilst the committee was unable to include specific whistleblower stories in the report to ensure protection of whistleblowers, the committee would like to acknowledge those who shared their experiences as a whistleblower with the committee to ensure we were fully informed about the sections in need of reform, and, in particular, the journeys they went through during their whistleblowing time.

I thank the committee members for their participation and contribution to this important inquiry, and, of course, to this report.

I thank: the Deputy Chair, Senator Deb O'Neill; Senator Nick Xenophon, who is a passionate advocate for whistleblower protections and a driving force behind a lot of this report. I also thank my parliamentary colleagues: the member for Forde, Senator John Williams, the member for Mackellar, the member for Griffith, the member for Burt, Senator Chris Ketter and Senator Peter Whish-Wilson.

It would also be remiss of me not to thank Hansard and Broadcasting, and also, in particular, the secretariat for the work that they did on aligning the members and also putting up with some of the issues that were raised.

Finally, to the committee secretariat—particularly Patrick Hodder and Jon Bell—who put an enormous amount of work into ensuring the committee has had the opportunity to liaise with the academics, whistleblowers and other representatives, and to ensure we were able to put forward informed recommendations to protect whistleblowers. That's what this report is about: the protection of whistleblowers against reprisals.

Without further ado, I commend the report to the House.