Protection for Commonwealth whistleblowers

The Public Interest Disclosure Bill 2013 has been passed by both Houses and is awaiting Royal Assent.

The Bill provides protection for current or former Commonwealth public officials who make qualifying public interest disclosures under the scheme.

A public interest disclosure is a disclosure of information, by a public official, that is:
• a disclosure within the government, to an authorised internal recipient or a supervisor, concerning suspected or probable illegal conduct or other wrongdoing (“disclosable conduct”); or
• a disclosure to anybody, if an internal disclosure of the information has not been adequately dealt with, and if wider disclosure satisfies public interest requirements; or
• a disclosure to anybody if there is substantial and imminent danger to health or safety; or
• a disclosure to an Australian legal practitioner for purposes connected with the above matters.

However, there are limitations to take into account the need to protect intelligence information.

A person who makes a public interest disclosure is not subject to any civil, criminal or administrative liability for making the disclosure. Also no contractual or other remedy may be enforced or sanction imposed on the basis of making the disclosure.

The discloser has absolute privilege for defamation proceeding in respect of a public interest disclosure and a contract to which the discloser is a party must not be terminated on the basis that the disclosure constitutes a breach of contract.

The penalty for the offences of taking a reprisal or threatening to take a reprisal against a person who has made a disclosure to 2 years imprisonment or 120 penalty units ($20,400) or both.

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