Wednesday, 10 May 2023
Public Interest Disclosure Amendment (Review) Bill 2022; In Committee
The utter effrontery of the minister in making that contribution, having sat and warmed this bill under the backside of the government for a month or more—to make that contribution today. It's a wonder a bolt of lightning didn't come through the skylight and provide the deity's response to that extraordinary proposition from the minister. He literally sat, cooling, doing nothing. We moved heaven and earth to get the inquiry done. We delivered the inquiry in record time. We limited the hearings in the inquiry. We cooperated to get the report done. We delivered it all in March. We got our amendments in in March. We were ready to go in March. And here we are, in mid-May, and the government is saying, 'How dare you ask questions about it?' And the 25 minutes of delay, or the half hour of delay, that we're going to have by asking questions about the bill is the reason for the delay in getting this forward—the effrontery of that. Maybe it was under instructions. Maybe is was from some speaking notes the minister was given. But you shouldn't have done it, because it was unworthy. It was deeply unworthy of the minister to make that contribution.
One of the other great concerns the stakeholders have had with this bill is the fact that, under the protections that have been put with the NACC bill and the National Anti-Corruption Commission Act that's now in place, unlike the Public Interest Disclosure Act amendments that are in place, there are no remedies for whistleblowers if the protections in the NACC that mirror the PID Act are breached. So, if adverse action is taken against a whistleblower and the whistleblower's only statutory protections are in the provisions under the NACC Act, a criminal prosecution might be taken for the adverse action. The whistleblower may have been terminated or may have been demoted. A criminal prosecution might be able to be taken under the NACC provisions, but there's nothing the whistleblower can rely upon to get redress. They can't get compensation and they can't get reinstatement. Is that an accurate reading of this bill—that it doesn't put in place those remedies? If that is the case, is the government committed to providing those remedies for whistleblowers who have the purported protection under the protections under the NACC Act but actually nothing to help them, nothing to get them their job back or compensation or any kind of redress if adverse action has been taken against them?
And when addressing that, Minister, perhaps you could address the other core problem with those protections under the NACC Bill, which is that, as the Greens understand them, the protections only provide the capacity for criminal prosecutions for adverse action. We know from the evidence before the committee and from our understanding of practice in the public sector that, despite the PID Act having been in place with very similar provisions for a decade, there has not been a single successful criminal prosecution. So Minister, given how ineffectual the provisions in the PID Act have proven over the last 10 years when it comes to adverse conduct without a successful prosecution—given that a criminal prosecution is basically the only kind of remedy that's being proposed under the NACC Act—is it true that this bill doesn't fix that? And what's the government's intent to fix it?