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Inquiry into Whistleblower protection [and] Terms of reference.

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Media Release

24/2008 11 July 2008

Inquiry into Whistleblower Protection

The Cabinet Secretary, Senator John Faulkner, today announced that the Government has referred the issue of whistleblower protection in the public sector to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.

The Government has asked the Committee to consider and report on a preferred model for legislation to protect public interest disclosures (whistleblowing) within the Australian Government public sector.

“This inquiry is the first step in delivering on the Government’s election commitment to provide best practice legislation to encourage and protect public interest disclosures within government,” Senator Faulkner said.

Whistleblowing is the term commonly used to describe the disclosure of corruption or misconduct. Whistleblowing protection is about ensuring that there are appropriate processes in place, and protections offered, to facilitate the making of such disclosures.

“The Committee has been asked to report by 28 February 2009,” Senator Faulkner said. “The Government will consider the Committee’s recommendations with the aim of developing legislation implementing strengthened whistleblower protections during the course of 2009.”

The Terms of Reference for the inquiry are attached, and will shortly be available on the Committee’s website:

Terms of Reference [PDF - 19KB] [attached]

Media Contact: Website:

Ashley Hogan - 0417 651 952

Terms of Reference

The Committee is to consider and report on a preferred model for legislation to protect public interest disclosures (whistleblowing) within the Australian Government public sector. The Committee’s report should address aspects of its preferred model, covering:

1. the categories of people who could make protected disclosures:

a. these could include:

i. persons who are currently or were formerly employees in the Australian Government general government sector*, whether or not employed under the Public Service Act 1999;

ii. contractors and consultants who are currently or were formerly engaged by the Australian Government;

iii. persons who are currently or were formerly engaged under the Members of Parliament (Staff) Act 1984, whether as employees or consultants; and

b. the Committee may wish to address additional issues in relation to protection of disclosures by persons located outside Australia, whether in the course of their duties in the general government sector or otherwise;

2. the types of disclosures that should be protected:

a. these could include allegations of the following activities in the public sector: illegal activity, corruption, official misconduct involving a significant public interest matter, maladministration, breach of public trust, scientific misconduct, wastage of public funds, dangers to public health and safety, and dangers to the environment; and

b. the Committee should consider:

i. whether protection should be afforded to persons who disclose confidential information for the dominant purpose of airing disagreements about particular government policies, causing embarrassment to the Government, or personal benefit; and

ii. whether grievances over internal staffing matters should generally be addressed through separate mechanisms;

3. the conditions that should apply to a person making a disclosure, including:

a. whether a threshold of seriousness should be required for allegations to be protected, and/or other qualifications (for example, an honest and reasonable belief that the allegation is of a kind referred to in paragraph 2(a)); and

b. whether penalties and sanctions should apply to whistleblowers who:

i. in the course of making a public interest disclosure, materially fail to comply with the procedures under which disclosures are to be made; or

ii. knowingly or recklessly make false allegations;

4. the scope of statutory protection that should be available, which could include:

a. protection against victimisation, discrimination, discipline or an employment sanction, with civil or equitable remedies including compensation for any breaches of this protection;

b. immunity from criminal liability and from liability for civil penalties; and

c. immunity from civil law suits such as defamation and breach of confidence;

5. procedures in relation to protected disclosures, which could include:

a. how information should be disclosed for disclosure to be protected: options would include disclosure through avenues within a whistleblower’s agency, disclosure to existing or new integrity agencies, or a mix of the two;

b. the obligations of public sector agencies in handling disclosures;

c. the responsibilities of integrity agencies (for example, in monitoring the system and providing training and education); and

d. whether disclosure to a third party could be appropriate in circumstances where all available mechanisms for raising a matter within Government have been exhausted;

6. the relationship between the Committee’s preferred model and existing Commonwealth laws; and

7. such other matters as the Committee considers appropriate.

Referred by the Attorney-General, on behalf of the Cabinet Secretary, on 10 July 2007.

* As defined in the Australian Bureau of Statistics publication Australian System of Government Finance Statistics: Concepts, Sources, Methods, 2003 p.256.