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Draft bill promises improved whistleblower protection

Posted on : Friday, 8 December 2017

The Australian Government has recently released an exposure draft of the Treasury Laws Amendment (Whistleblowers) Bill 2017. This release follows a Parliamentary Joint Committee report on whistleblower protection in September 2017. The purpose of the Bill is to address criticisms of existing whistleblower protection laws that are said to limit the scope and the added complexity of these current laws, and to create an overall and consistent whistleblower protection system.

 

Background

 

The Australian Government announced a number of tax integrity measures as part of its Federal Budget in May 2016, and then committed to harmonise corporate sector whistleblower provisions with those existing in the public sector.

 

The exposure draft explanation material states that "combating crime and misconduct is a longstanding aim of corporate, financial and tax law enforcement. Criminal conduct can be difficult to detect or prove satisfactory in a court" (#1.3). With amendments to commence on the day that the Bill receives Royal Assent, the intention is that the Bill will apply on or after 1 July 2018.

 

The relevance of this proposed Bill to the workplace can be traced and linked with the inquiry into trade unions, but also to a 2016 Government National Action Plan which included a commitment to improve whistleblower protections in the tax and corporate sectors. As part of the action plan, the Government committed to examining the Registered Organisations Commission whistleblower amendments with the objective of applying those amendments to the corporate and public sectors.

 

The report highlights the inconsistencies in protections available to whistleblowers and the obligations placed on various entities - whether they are companies, trade unions, government bodies or various types of employers. While specific legislation has been applied to the government sector, different legislation has governed different industries in the private sector where rights and obligations have varied.

 

So while public sector laws are in place, there is no comprehensive scheme applying to the private sector.

 

Report

 

 The Committee made 35 recommendations that included (in part):

 

  • The Commonwealth, states and territories harmonise whistleblowing legislation across Australia (R3.1);
  • That disclosure conduct be defined to include any law where the disclosure relates to the employer of the whistleblower and the employer is an entity covered by the Fair Work Act 2009 (R5.2);
  • The Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009 be amended to separate the grounds for civil and criminal liability (R10.1);
  • A Whistleblower Protection Act reflect whistleblower protections, remedies and sanctions for reprisals in the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act (R10.2); and
  • A one-stop shop Whistleblower Protection Authority be established to cover both the public and private sectors (R12.1).

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