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'A 007 licence to kill': whistleblowing exemptions dangerous

Exemptions from new whistleblowing laws could give Australia's intelligence agencies “a 007 licence to kill” approach, according to one of the nation's leading public sector corruption experts.

And excluding the federal politicians from the legislation is “unjustifiable,” claims the University of Canberra's Howard Whitton.

Mr Whitton believes the laws, which are being considered by a parliamentary committee, are too focused on secrecy and not concerned enough with the potential for wrongdoing among secret agents.

The academic is also worried that ordinary workers who try to expose corruption will need a “lawyer at their elbow” to meet all the complex legal tests contained in the legislation to gain protection as a bona fide whistleblower.

The laws, which languished for nearly four years before being introduced in March, are due to become operational on July 1 and now two parliamentary committees are examining "consequential amendments" aimed at fine-tuning the protections for public-sector whistleblowers.

But in his submission to the committees, Mr Whitton says that bill is “lacking in clarity on many matters, inadequate in scope, and variously at odds with its stated objectives”.

“It is likely that most intending whistleblowers will need a lawyer at their elbow to understand the many procedural steps required for a disclosure to be granted 'protection'.”

Mr Whitton is the founding Associate at the University of Canberra's National Institute for Governance and a member of the national committee on the National Anti-Corruption Plan.

He said the bill's authors could have examined state-based legislation - some of which had been on the books for decades - which he believed were superior to the versions now before parliament.

“Overall, the bill's excessively complicated processes and inadequate definitions fail to respond to real-world issues which other Australian jurisdictions' whistleblower protection laws – notably those of New South Wales, the ACT and Queensland – resolved satisfactorily almost two decades ago,” he wrote.

Mr Whitton is concerned that the bill does not seem to entertain the possibility that members of intelligence agencies could engage in wrongdoing.

“The current bill is excessively focused on claimed secrecy concerns, especially in relation to Intelligence matters, and inadequately concerned with encouraging the principled disclosure of 'wrongdoing' by Australian public officials involved in security and intelligence functions at all levels,” he wrote.

“The bill appears not to contemplate the possibility that an intelligence activity by an Australian intelligence operative might involve otherwise disclosable official misconduct, corruption, criminal conduct, or other illegality.

“If this is intended as a '007 – licence to kill' approach, it is my submission that this is sorely misconceived.

Mr Whitton also believes that federal members of parliament should be covered by the disclosure legislation.

“The omission of elected officials, especially members of parliament, from the coverage of the bill is wholly unjustifiable, especially when MPs have been covered by similar state and territory legislation for two decades without difficulty,” he wrote.

Mr Whitton cites the jailing of former Queensland minister for health Gordon Nuttall, and the allegations against former NSW ministers Eddie Obeid and Ian Macdonald to support his case.

“There are numerous other examples over the past two decades alone to serve as reminders that corruption involving MPs is, sadly, far from unthinkable,” he wrote.

2 comments

  • I would agree, basically with what Mr Whitton is reported to be saying except when it comes to:
    1. ACT, NSW and QLD PID Acts. Mr Whitton must be dreaming, (to corn a well known phrase). From my experiences with whistleblowers the public interest disclosure Acts of NSW, Qld and ACT in practice, are not intended to work. Just look at the treatment of Dave Reid ( Lucas Heights whistleblower) and ors including myself. Dave's is well reported as is Gillian Sneddon re her disclosures over Milton Orkopoulos, then in Qld re Toni Hoffman treatment re disclosures over Dr Jayant Patel, and a well known whistleblower known to Ms Gallagher and CPSU who has been persecuted in the ACT; then of course the federal situation re Alan Kessing;
    2. As to having a lawyer at your elbow; what a joke! I have now tried to assist whistleblowers and have witnessed some 50+ members of the legal profession 'Not' assist whistleblowers. One sat and watched as the whistleblower was told by a barrister representing a state gov employer" they believe we can have you dead in five years" and I'll personally kick you to death if you ever tell anyone.
    3. Helping whistleblowers expose corrupt Labor/Liberal Govts is not a good move for lawyers if, as is the case all too often, they are up against a state or Territory Government and either they want a Judicial position or are faced with a well resourced govt.
    4. We need some decent philanthropic Australians to start a Public interest Advocacy centre to help whistleblowers with carefully selected lawyers to take on Govt and ensure we have best practice PID Act's. We may then start to have the public interest considered and whistleblowers protected.

    Commenter
    fairgo4allofus
    Date and time
    May 26, 2013, 10:39AM
    • Like everything these days, government fails to recognise the danger to society of government secrecy and various security measures, compared to the danger of lack of security. Government doing the wrong thing is FAR more dangerous, long term.

      Commenter
      John
      Date and time
      May 27, 2013, 12:25PM
      Comments are now closed
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