Laws allowing public servants to blow the whistle are in dire need of reform following recommendations in a damning review delivered to government nearly half a decade ago, a human rights lawyer has warned.
An independent review into the complicated public interest disclosure legislation was delivered by former law enforcement integrity commissioner Philip Moss in October 2016.
It found the law was overly complex with whistleblowers rarely feeling supported after making disclosures and employment-related grievances clogging up the system.
More than four years later, the government's formal response in December 2020 promised a simpler system with better protections.
But after another six months have passed with no further announcements, Human Rights Law Centre senior lawyer Kieran Pender said urgent action was needed.
In the nearly five years since the Moss Review was first handed over, the government has approved the prosecution of a number of whistleblowers, including Witness K, David McBride and ATO whistleblower Richard Boyle.
Mr Pender said the government's recent actions had been in opposition to democratic ideals.
"Whistleblowers are essential to our democracy. When people speak up, change happens. When Australians speak up about wrongdoing, they deserve to be protected, not punished," Mr Pender said.
"The government has been sitting on the reforms it needs to make for years. In the meantime, it has approved the prosecution of whistleblowers and shrouded those prosecutions in secrecy."
The changes proposed in December 2020 by former attorney-general Christian Porter would result in grievances being excluded under the scheme unless they indicated wider misconduct or wrongdoing.
Fellow oversight agencies, the Commonwealth Ombudsman and Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, would also be strengthened and witnesses provided the same protection as disclosers from reprisal under the proposed amendments.
A spokesperson for the Attorney-General's Department said legislation was being developed to implement the government's response to the five-year-old review but declined to answer questions over its planned timeline.
Mr Pender called on Attorney-General Michaelia Cash to get on with the job after years of delays.
"The attorney-general must urgently overhaul the PID Act, to bring Australia's whistleblower protections up to international standards," he said.
"Without that reform, whistleblowers will continue to suffer. A transparent Australia is a better Australia."
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