Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Monday, 30 August 2021
Page: 8879

Mr BANDT (MelbourneLeader of the Australian Greens) (15:45): [by video link] I'm pleased that the government has brought this bill to the House, it having passed through the Senate, because it will close a loophole that was getting in the way of people telling their stories—stories about abuse and neglect—to the disability royal commission, for fear that what they told the royal commission might not be kept confidential. Many people had a really well founded fear that, if they blew the whistle and spoke to the royal commission, they might find themselves exposed because what they told the royal commission wasn't confidential. That, it turns out, was a very well founded fear, and it was a fear that the royal commission itself shared. The royal commission said that we needed to close that loophole and change the law so that it was crystal clear that people who wanted to come and tell their stories, who wanted to come and give evidence to one of the most crucial royal commissions that have been held for some time, would be able to do so without any fear of retribution.

As I said, I'm pleased that the government is bringing this bill here, but there's one person in this parliament who, above everyone else, is the reason that the government is bringing this bill here, and that is the Greens disability spokesperson, Senator Jordon Steele-John.

Back in October of last year, well after having received the request from the royal commission to close this loophole, the government said that they would bring legislation forward urgently. Months passed, and nothing happened. Senator Steele-John introduced his own private member's bill, which bears a remarkable resemblance to this bill, to close that loophole. That bill gained widespread support. The government weren't prepared to support that bill, but what they did do—and I want to acknowledge this—was work with Senator Steele-John to come up with a bill that closes the loophole and will give people the confidence that they need to come forward. That bill passed the Senate unanimously, as far as I'm aware—with everyone's support—and I hope that the bill will do the same now that it is before the House.

As well as giving confidence to whistleblowers and allowing people to come forward and make arrangements to talk to the royal commission in ways that they feel comfortable with and in ways that will ensure their confidence, we've also been able to secure some additional protections as part of this bill, which we're very proud to have achieved. One that has been referred to is the review that'll be conducted in a short period of time to ensure that whistleblower protections work properly. It is crucial in this country, because in other areas—not in the disability area, but in other areas—we've seen this government hound whistleblowers who've come forward to do the right thing. We've seen hounded in the past whistleblowers who have come forward and said that governments have been acting illegally or governments have been acting unfairly. That shouldn't be the case. Whistleblowers should be entitled to protection. So we're pleased that there will be a review process to ensure that this protection in here is going to do what it's meant to do. That is going to be of great benefit to everyone, including any people who want to participate in and give evidence to royal commissions.

What this bill now needs is to do its job, and, for the bill to be successful, it needs to encourage people to come forward. People now need to feel comfortable that they can come forward once this has passed, and I hope they do. I say on behalf of us, as the Greens, who have been a driving force in trying to make this legislation happen, that you should now feel confident that the legislation, when it is passed—which hopefully it will be soon—will mean that you are now able to come forward and tell the story. You can tell the story on your own behalf, you can come forward and give evidence on behalf of others and you can arrange with the commissioner to do it in a way that works for you and that guarantees confidentiality. That is critically important for people who want to blow the whistle, because now you know you can come forward and you can name names, you can talk about specific incidents that have happened to you and you can also talk about the systems that have worked to discriminate against you, and you can do it in a way knowing that the law will have your back. And I presume that, once this legislation has passed through this House and comes into force, the royal commission, itself, is going to make its own announcements to give people that level of comfort as well.

Having had this spoken about more forcefully in the Senate, especially being led by Senator Steele-John, I'll leave my remarks there and just say it is good that this has happened, it should have happened much sooner and it could have happened much sooner. One of the things that this shows is that when you have people like Senator Steele-John and the Greens in the Senate, who introduce private member's bills of matters of concern to the community that are otherwise trying to be put in the too-hard basket or dropped off the list, we can get results. I want to congratulate Senator Steele-John in particular and the community for people with disabilities, who worked together with him to ensure that this legislation became a reality, for pushing and pushing and pushing. This very, very significant win, this very important protection that is now being gained, is down in very large part to you. Once again, I say congratulations.