11 September 2023
Speech to Australian Parliament, House of Representatives
PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS
Mr DAVID SMITH (Bean—Government Whip) (12:36): This government does not support the member for North Sydney's motion or the way in which it is framed. On our watch, the National Anti-Corruption Commission has commenced and overdue reforms to whistleblower legislation have been passed. That does not mean that there isn't more to do. The Attorney-General was strongly of the view that integrity and the rule of law are central to Australia's criminal justice arrangements. The Attorney-General's power to discontinue proceedings is reserved for very unusual and exceptional circumstances.
Prosecution of alleged Commonwealth crimes is a matter for the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, or CDPP, acting in accordance with the prosecution policy of the Commonwealth. That policy requires the CDPP to be satisfied that there is sufficient evidence to prosecute the case and that the prosecution is in the public interest. Under the policy, the CDPP also considers whether a prosecution should continue. As Mr McBride's and Mr Boyle's proceedings remain ongoing, it is inappropriate for me to comment further on the particulars of their matters. However, I note that the government is committed to delivering strong, effective and successful protections for whistleblowers.
The government has already delivered priority amendments to the Public Interest Disclosure Act and will commence the second broader stage of reforms, which will include public consultation on the following: broader reforms to the Public Interest Disclosure Act to provide effective and accessible protections to public sector whistleblowers and address the underlying complexity of the existing scheme. This also includes the need for additional supports for public sector whistleblowers, such as a whistleblower protection authority or commissioner. The government is delivering on its commitment to ensure that Australia has effective frameworks to protect whistleblowers, which are critical to supporting integrity and the rule of law. Reforms to the Public Interest Disclosure Act have been long overdue, and significant reform is required to restore the act to a scheme that provides strong protection for public sector whistleblowers.
The Albanese government has passed legislation to strengthen protections for public sector whistleblowers already in this term, delivering on our election commitment to deliver those overdue reforms of the Public Interest Disclosure Act. Those reforms include some of the following changes. The Public Interest Disclosure Amendment (Review) Act reinforces the positive duty to protect whistleblowers and principal officers by requiring them to provide ongoing training in education to public officials in their agency. It strengthens protections for disclosures and introduces protections for witnesses, including expanding the definition of detriment that will attract remedies. It enhances the oversight roles of the Ombudsman and the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security. It facilitates the reporting and sharing of information related to public interest disclosures to ensure that they can be properly addressed. It improves the allocation and investigation processes for authorised officers and principal officers, and removes solely personal work related conduct from the scope of disclosable conduct. This helped to ensure that immediate improvements to the public sector whistleblower scheme were in place before the NACC commenced on 1 July 2023. Those reforms, as I said, were overdue, but there's more to be done.
The second stage will involve redrafting the Public Interest Disclosure Act to address the underlying complexity of the scheme and provide effective and accessible protections to public sector whistleblowers. This will include consulting widely on whether there's a need to establish a whistleblower protection authority or commissioner.
Reforms to the Public Interest Disclosure Act and our government's broader Australian Public Service reform agenda are about restoring the public's trust and faith in government and its institutions, and achieving this by rebuilding the capacity and expertise of government. Looking around the world at the state many great democracies find themselves in and contemplating the challenges for our country that loom on the horizon and creep ever closer to us, there are few tasks more important than restoring trust in, and the capacity of, government. The government has already taken significant steps to rebuild trust and transparency in government; suggesting that it hasn't is disingenuous. To reiterate: this government does not support the member for North Sydney's motion.