Joint statement

30 January 2023

Whistleblowing reform needs to be comprehensive

The Human Rights Law Centre, Griffith University’s Centre for Governance & Public Policy and Transparency International Australia have called for a comprehensive reform process to ensure stronger protections for Australian whistleblowers, building on initial announcements by the Albanese government about its first steps.

In a joint submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee’s inquiry into the Public Interest Disclosure Amendment (Review) Bill 2022, the organisations welcomed the Government’s first, largely-technical phase of reform to the Public Interest Disclosure Act, which protects federal public servant whistleblowers.

The group expressed concern however about the risks of a piecemeal approach to improving whistleblower protections, urging the Committee and Government to pursue a clear, ambitious vision for comprehensive reform across all Commonwealth laws, driven by a transparent whole-of-government process to ensure whistleblower protections return to being world-leading.

Of 21 areas for reform identified in Protecting Australia’s Whistleblowers: The Federal Roadmap, published by the organisations in November 2022, the Bill only addresses one reform in full and four in-part. A new edition of the Roadmap updated to reflect the Bill has been published alongside the submission.

Whistleblower report released
Release of Protecting Australia's Whistleblowers: The Federal Roadmap, Parliament House, Canberra, 23 November 2022. From left: Kieran Pender, Human Rights Law Centre; Tom Devine, US Government Accountability Project; Professor A J Brown, lead report author; Adam Bandt MP, Australian Greens (speaking); Dr Monique Ryan MP (Independent, Victoria); Bridget Archer MP (Liberal, Tasmania); David Smith MP (Government Whip, Labor, ACT); Andrew Wilkie MP (Independent, Tasmania); Clancy Moore, Transparency International Australia; Dr Helen Haines MP (Independent, Victoria); Senator David Pocock (Independent, ACT).
Kieran Pender, Senior Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, said:

“Now is the time for a robust, transparent, whole of government process to fix whistleblower protections in Australia, to bring an end to the piecemeal approach which has led to so many of our current problems. The Australian public, and Australia’s whistleblowers, deserve nothing less.”

 “Ultimately, we support these amendments, which go some way towards addressing a number of issues raised in our Roadmap. However, the amendments will only have their desired effect if substantial further reform is undertaken to address critical underlying issues.“

 A J Brown, Professor of Public Policy and Law, Griffith University and Board Member, Transparency International Australia, said:

“While we support the Bill in principle, there are a number of technical issues which only underscore the importance of a holistic rather than piecemeal approach.

 “We are particularly concerned that narrowing the scope of the PID Act by excluding purely personal employment grievances, although desirable in principle, will be extremely problematic under the proposed drafting. There is a real risk, for example, that the proposed provision will exclude targets or witnesses of workplace sexual harassment from the protections if they speak up about their experiences. That must be fixed.

 “We also call on the Government to ensure a comprehensive approach by extending  whistleblower protections to parliamentary staff, as recommended by Kate Jenkins’ Set the Standard review – and ensuring that public servants who report corruption concerns within their agency, about parliamentarians or their staff, are fully protected. Unfortunately this seems to be another gap left open by the present bill, which undermines the historic establishment of the NACC.”

The submission can be downloaded here. An updated version of the Roadmap, annexed to the submission, can be downloaded here.

Read the joint submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee’s inquiry into the Public Interest Disclosure Amendment (Review) Bill 2022 here.

Read Protecting Australia’s Whistleblowers: The Federal Roadmap here.

Publication of the submission comes ahead of the release of Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index for 2022 (Tuesday, 4 pm AEDT 31 January 2023), the global ranking of 180 countries on their performance in the fight against corruption.