A report into Queensland’s whistleblower laws has called for the threshold of reportable bad behaviour to be raised to avoid trivial, ideological or personally motivated complaints.
It also wants to see local government and government corporations included under Public Interest Disclosure (PID) laws, and for contractors, trainees and volunteers to be able to make complaints.
The PID Act, like similar laws in other jurisdictions, is designed to prevent, root out and combat wrongdoing in the state’s public sector.
But a review of the Act by retired Supreme Court Judge Alan Wilson KC, handed down last week, says the state’s whistleblowing legislation has ‘atrophied’ since the 1990s.
“There are many public servants striving to use the existing legislation effectively to ensure that wrongdoing in the public sector is exposed and remedied, and that whistleblowers receive appropriate and adequate protections,” Mr Wilson says.
“But their efforts are impeded or, sometimes, thwarted by deficiencies in the clarity of the legislation and technicalities in its operation.”
New Act needed
Mr Wilson makes 107 recommendations including “a brand new act with a new title and clarified objects” that is simpler to use, easier to understand, and more accessible to the state’s public sector.
A key recommendation calls for a higher threshold for whistleblowing complaints.
Mr Wilson says whistleblowing should only be used in cases of corruption, serious maladministration, serious misuse of public resources or serious danger to the environment or public health and safety.
It should also be exercised only in relation to serious or systemic wrongdoing that threatens the public sector, or the public interest.
“The public sector should not be burdened by public interest disclosures which are solely personal workplace grievances, ideological in nature, or trivial,” he says.
The public sector should not be burdened by public interest disclosures which are solely personal workplace grievances, ideological in nature, or trivial.Alan Wilson KC
The report says whistleblowers need better protection and more confidence to come forward, but it also highlights the need to protect public servants who are the subject of a complaint.
“They should be entitled to appropriately similar protections as those afforded to a whistleblower,” the report recommends.
A wider net
Mr Wilson says the whistleblowing framework needs to cast a wider net by expanding the definition of ‘public sector entity’ to include government owned corporations and Queensland Rail -and their subsidiaries – local governments, and state-owned companies.
Along with that, a wider group of individuals should be able to make a protected PID under the law, including contractors, trainees and volunteers.
In another observation, Mr Wilson found a need for better oversight of the PID scheme, saying while both the Queensland Ombudsman and the state’s Crime and Corruption Commission were supposed to be overseeing it, “some gaps have inadvertently arisen between their roles, and that, presently, neither are clearly charged with any overarching responsibility”.
The state government has described the review as ‘game-changing’.
“Understandable, being so comprehensive and broad … the government will consider all of the recommendations and reasonings,” Attorney General Yvette D’Ath said in a statement.
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