Monday, 11 September 2023
Private Members' Business
Transparency was one of the most important issues at the last election, and I can say, from personal experience of talking to people who were considering their vote throughout my electorate, that it determined many people's votes. The reason I state that here is that it has been one of the government's greatest priorities during this term in government.
While we're going to disagree on some issues in this Chamber during the course of discussing this motion, I do want to acknowledge from the outset that, across the chamber as people are sitting right now, there is a great deal of agreement on some first-order issues when it comes to how we should deal with transparency and when it comes to some of the systemic aspects of this issue—for example, the need for a national anticorruption commission with teeth and the need for whistleblower regulation. There will be aspects of this motion that I can't agree with and that the government, undoubtedly, wouldn't agree with, but I think it's important to set the scene and the context for that.
This is a first-order issue, and I do want to put on the record that I think a great deal of progress has been made. Certainly I wouldn't want to be part of a government that was going down the same well-trodden path of previous governments, and I don't believe that that's the case when it comes to many key aspects of reform in this area. I will get to the issue of whistleblowers, but I do think it's important to mention, at least, the NAC that has been implemented. This was, I believe, one of the key broken promises of the previous government. There was an inordinate delay—unexplained and unjustified—in the drafting of the legislation. Then, when the legislation was drafted, it sat outside the chamber, ridiculously, waiting for the opposition to make certain statements about it. Thirdly, there was the actual content of the bill, with the Commonwealth integrity commission, as put, described by senior lawyers across the board as deeply flawed, a disaster and having no teeth. David Ipp, the former commissioner of the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption said that Morrison had created the kind of integrity commission you would want when you don't want to have one. So that is a huge step forward, and, as I said, I think everybody in this chamber at the moment would support the broad reform that has been implemented during this term of government.
Let's go to whistleblowers. Again I want to state from the outset that whistleblowers do play an important role in uncovering corruption. They promote integrity and good governance, and the broad regulation of whistleblower behaviour is absolutely key, so the Albanese government has already passed legislation to strengthen protections for public sector whistleblowers. We've delivered on the election commitment to deliver long overdue reform of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013, passing priority amendments. Kieran Pender, a senior lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, said:
The Attorney-General is to be commended for resuming the journey towards a better whistleblowing framework, having led the initial enactment of the PID Act—
the Public Interest Disclosure Act—
over a decade ago.
Clancy Moore, the CEO of Transparency International Australia, praised the amendments, saying:
These initial technical changes will start to breathe life back into federal whistleblower protection in tandem with the Albanese Government's historic success in establishing Australia's long awaited national anti-corruption commission.
There will a second stage of reforms that will involve redrafting the Public Interest Disclosure Act to tackle the scheme's complexity and to provide effective and accessible protections to public sector whistleblowers. So there's a lot that's been done and more will be done.
When it comes to the particular case that has been raised, individual cases can be difficult to discuss and they involve difficult consideration of particular circumstances. On top of that, there is the difficulty of the fact that attorneys-general rarely discontinue cases. It is not something that happens very often. As has been noted, it occurs under very unusual and exceptional circumstances. Sensible people can disagree on whether a particular fact case is very unusual and exceptional. The Commonwealth DPP considers a wide range of factors when determining whether to bring a case forward. We all believe in the rule of law. That does involve the Attorney-General using the power of discontinuance very rarely. I support the government's actions to date, with more to come.