We’re committed to ensuring that public officials who make public interest disclosures are supported and protected from adverse consequences, and ensuring that public interest disclosures by public officials are properly investigated and dealt with—and that they are reported in the first place. This is about ensuring that whistleblowers are provided with the requisite level of protection, not just in a private context in relation to tax receipts and other things but also in the public context as it relates to the very important work of government from within government.
But perhaps the part of this bill that has interested me the most is the need to ensure whistleblowers are protected in the context of registered organisations. In November 2016, parliament passed amendments to the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act which significantly strengthened whistleblower protections for people who report corruption or misconduct in unions and employer organisations. The amendments provide a protection to persons who disclose information about certain contraventions of the law, including current and former officers, employees, members, contractors, et cetera. Importantly, anonymous disclosures are allowed. To qualify for protections, the disclosure has to be made to the Registered Organisations Commission, the Fair Work Ombudsman or the Fair Work Commission if the discloser suspects, on reasonable grounds, that it differs to disclosable conduct, defined broadly as an act or omission that contravenes or may contravene a provision of the Registered Organisations Act, the Fair Work Act or the Competition and Consumer Act, or constitutes or may constitute an offence under Commonwealth law.
The disclosure can be made via solicitors. Disclosure to other external parties do not qualify for these protections. The court can award compensation and impose injunctions. The courts can also make compensation orders, when detriment ensues from the failure by a manager to prevent a reprisal. This is because employers are objectively liable for reprisals and actual or constructive knowledge of an actual or potential disclosure is sufficient to create the liability.
The amendments also guarantee that if a whistleblower seeks compensation they will not be subject to adverse legal cost orders if their compensation claim does not succeed, unless their claims are vexatious or deemed to be an abuse of process. This amendment also provides more specific guidance on the use of protected disclosures and investigations conducted by the Registered Organisations Commission, the Fair Work Ombudsman or the Fair Work Commission.
In essence, people who are brave enough to call out any behaviour which is unconscionable, criminal, corrupt or falls shy of the requisite standard require the protection of this place and of all arms of government, because if that protection isn’t offered or if it’s not deemed satisfactory or it doesn’t operate satisfactorily, these people will be disincentivised from coming forward. Of course, in dark places bad behaviour can not only continue but propagate. What this law does is say to individuals working in the public and private sectors and working for employer or employee organisations: if you are across any of this information, if it sits uncomfortably with you, not only should you take action; we will protect you when you do. It’s only when you shine that bright light on this behaviour that we see it end.
I’ll come back to the contribution from the member for Moreton. It was right for him to raise the behaviour we saw so well illustrated through the banking royal commission as an example of behaviour that occurs within corporate organisations that falls well shy of the requisite standard. I’ve said this publicly, and I’m happy to say it in this place: I’m someone who has apologised to my electorate for the delay in coming to the call for that royal commission.