Whistleblower bill welcomed by NSW Ombudsman

Whistleblower bill welcomed by NSW Ombudsman

17 October 2021 By Naomi Neilson
Whistleblower bill welcomed by NSW Ombudsman

The NSW Ombudsman has welcomed news that the government will debate a new Public Interest Disclosure Bill four years after a parliamentary committee handed down a report that recommended a series of reforms to whistleblower laws.

The draft bill was introduced to the legislative council on the morning of Thursday, 14 October, as part of the government’s response to the report and its 30 reform recommendations. Essentially, the report called for the current act, which dates back to 1994, to be re-written and better reflective of the current legal landscape.

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“The willingness of officials and staff to report wrongdoing whenever they see it is essential to maintaining integrity of the public service,” Ombudsman Paul Miller said.

The first print of the bill seeks to repeal and replace the Public Interest Disclosures Act 1994. In particular, it sets out its plans to redefine the categories of public interest disclosure, specify the conditions of a voluntary disclosure and enable a public official to make a voluntary public interest disclosure to an independent agency whether or not that agency has the jurisdiction to investigate.

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The bill could also make it an offence to take detrimental action against a person based on the “suspicion, belief or awareness the person, or another person, has made a public interest disclosure”. It may then protect people who make disclosures from detriment and liability “in relation to the making of the disclosures”.

Agencies could be required to adopt policies specifying their procedures for dealing with voluntary public interest disclosures, carry out training, provide the Ombudsman with an annual return, and specify how these agencies deal with voluntary public interest disclosures and respond to findings of serious wrongdoing.

The Ombudsman’s 2019-20 report noted that over 350 public interest disclosures (PID) were received in the year by NSW government departments, local councils, statutory bodies, and other agencies. A further 1,000 PIDs were received by integrity agencies, including ICAC, the Ombudsman, and the Office of Local Government.

“The government has consulted my office, as well as other integrity agencies who sit on a PID steering committee, throughout the drafting of the bill,” Mr Miller said.

The Ombudsman is expected to table a parliamentary report on the bill next week, which will include a detailed assessment of the extent to which the recommendations of the 2017 parliamentary committee have been implemented.

Whistleblower bill welcomed by NSW Ombudsman
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