BILL: Whistleblower protection laws

Today Mark spoke about the importance of whistleblower protection legislation and the ability to appropriately disclose information to journalists and Members of Parliament in certain circumstances.

Public Interest Disclosure Bill 2018

As other speakers have said, we have seen this bill before. This bill before us now is very similar. The Greens supported the last bill and will be supporting this bill as well. We have already agitated debates around appropriate disclosure, including reference to journalists and to members of parliament, so we will not need to reagitate that, I do not think.

The Labor opposition has introduced a new concept that we will need to have a think about and that raises a question about whether there are people who need the protection of this law who are not currently protected, in particular people who are not in a general sense public servants. We will hear what the opposition has to say when we get into committee, but I think my concerns are similar to those expressed by the Hon. John Darley: we are not sure what level of protection these people might need. If we go back to the origins of whistleblowers' protection legislation, the original harm to be overcome was people who were not just ostracised in the workplace but were bullied and sacked and ultimately paid a heavy price for having reported wrongdoing.

Whistleblowers' protection legislation came in in all states and territories and, it is probably fair to say, with limited success. Certainly, it is far more difficult for a big government agency to sack someone who has been a whistleblower and has made appropriate disclosure, but I have seen, in various reviews of this legislation in various states and territories, that there are some things it is pretty hard to legislate for. It is hard to make people be nice to you in the tearoom. It is hard to stop people turning their back on you at the water cooler. There are still consequences of blowing the whistle and not being a team player and not letting some of these indiscretions or illegalities go through to the wicketkeeper.

There is a price to be paid, but our job as legislators is to put in place a regime that protects these people as best we can. I am not sure whether people outside of the Public Service need that level of protection. Generally, they are not facing the sack because they do not work for the Public Service. They are going to make their disclosures to ICAC or to the police or wherever they go. We will hear the debate, but the Greens will need some convincing in relation to that.

Certainly, whilst this bill does what it does, we know that there are still some notorious cases out there of people who have blown the whistle and paid the price. Many of us have been appalled at what is happening at the commonwealth level, where you have someone who basically blew the whistle on illegal spying that our country undertook on one of the poorest countries in the world, East Timor. When that came to light, the response of the government, even today, is to prosecute these people for drawing the public's attention to the appalling and illegal conduct of Australian authorities. How remarkable.

We have to get to a point where whistleblowers' protection legislation reaches much wider. I am not suggesting a state law is going to impact on national security personnel, but I think this debate is a broader one that we as a nation need to have at the state level, at the federal level and even internationally, where one of the world's most famous whistleblowers, I think, has just been denied a visa to come to Australia, as a person of poor character whom we should not be hearing from. The disclosures that that person—

The Hon. I.K. Hunter: She got around that one. Technology.

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: As the Hon. Ian Hunter interjects, technology is a way around. You do not physically have to be in a country to have your voice heard, but it is still an interesting case study in how we treat whistleblowers at all levels of government. With those brief words, the Greens will be supporting the legislation and we look forward to hearing from the Labor Party about why they feel it needs to be extended in the way that they have proposed in amendments. We look forward to the committee stage.