Thursday, 14 May 2015
Australian Border Force Bill 2015, Customs and Other Legislation Amendment (Australian Border Force) Bill 2015; In Committee
I foreshadowed in my speech in the second reading debate that I had circulated an amendment to deal with this very important issue of protecting whistleblowers, particularly those working in the Public Service. We know that a big part of this government's agenda is to shut down information, cover things up and not let anyone know what is really going on. The secrecy entrenched in these bills means that legitimate whistleblowing will essentially be criminalised. The point is that we need whistleblowing more than ever at the moment. If it were not for whistleblowers, we would not know the children have been abused in detention centres. We would not know the terrible conditions inside the Nauru detention camp. We would never have had the Moss review into the detention centre in Nauru—let alone a raft of other elements of human rights abuses that are going on under the guise of the current immigration minister, the former immigration minister and probably the ministers before them. If it were not for whistleblowers, we would not know about the things that have been going on. These are public servants who are trying to do their jobs, and they deserve to have protections under legislation that ensures that, when they do speak out, they have at least a check of the public interest on their side—and that is what this is about.
Simply criminalising people for whistleblowing is the kind of thing a government that wants to shut down all dissent would do. You have to wonder why this government is so obsessed with secrecy, with keeping the public in the dark and even with keeping the parliament in the dark. It is time we started shining the light in the dark places in our detention centres.
The truth is very ugly. Staff within the department and Border Force operations, and contractors, deserve to know that they have the backing of this parliament and the law in terms of a public interest test. The amendment I have circulated deals very specifically with that. It is very simple. It is not saying that everyone can go and blow their whistles as much as they want; it is saying that if there is any type of offence then it needs to be tested against the public interest. That is a decision that the courts should make. It is not a decision for the minister. When the former minister, Minister Morrison, headed this department he was renowned for covering up. This amendment is important to ensure that there is an independent arbiter, and it must be the courts that stand up for the right of the public service and the right of the Australian people to know what is in the public interest and what information their government is trying to hide from them. I move amendment (1) on sheet 7704.
(1) Clause 42, page 35 (after line 13), after paragraph (1)(b), insert:
(ba) the making of the record, or the disclosure, causes, is likely to cause, or is intended to cause, harm to a public interest.
The government does not agree with the amendment and will be opposing it. The Public Interest Disclosure Act is the Commonwealth's statutory regime for such a disclosure as referred to by Senator Hanson-Young. Any disclosure under that act that would give immunity from criminal liability under section 42 of the Australian Border Force Act. There is nothing in the bills before the Senate preventing disclosure that is inconsistent with the Public Interest Disclosure Act.