In June this year, the Commonwealth Parliament passed its first comprehensive whistleblower protection legislation, the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013. Adelaide Law School’s Gabrielle Appleby, Judith Bannister and Anna Olijnyk made a submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee during its passage, commending the Commonwealth on its initiative but noting some serious shortfalls in the legislation as initially drafted. Their concerns related predominantly to the overly legal and complex system that the legislation created, making it difficult for a would-be whistleblower to navigate and determine whether they may be given protection. Further information on that submission can be accessed here.
The Government responded to the report of the Senate Committee and introduced a raft of amendments, many of which simplified the process for determining whether protection would be provided. At the time, Gabrielle, Judith and Anna provided a cautious congratulations for many of these amendments. See their comment in The Age/Sydney Morning Herald, published 26 June 2013, and Gabrielle’s interview for the Wall Street Journal on 15 July 2013. In light of the revelations by Edward Snowden, Gabrielle has also provided further commentary on Inside Story about the relationship between whistleblower protection laws and the role of the state in protecting the community.
The Commonwealth Government has taken an important step with the introduction of these laws. However, as with the introduction of many new accountability measures, the protections could be better. They could provide stronger protection and a simpler process. There are also major exemptions – including those relating to the conduct of Ministers and intelligence agencies – that have been insufficiently justified.