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Public Interest Disclosure Bill – Conference

Conference

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change) (11:05): I have to report that the managers for the two houses conferred together and that no agreement was reached.

The PRESIDENT: As no recommendation from the conference has been made, the council, pursuant to standing order 338, must either resolve not to further insist on its requirements or lay the bill aside.

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: I move:

That the Legislative Council do not further insist on its amendments.

The Hon. A.L. McLACHLAN (11:06): I report to the council that I attended every meeting of the deadlock conference, for the Liberal Party, although I was representing this council. All the members of this council who attended entered the conference in good faith and explored the various alternative options that were put forth by the Attorney-General, who attended on behalf of the House of Assembly in the course of the meeting. As has been reported by the minister, no agreement was reached. The various other options narrowed the parties to which a whistleblower could report to. In the circumstances, this did not find satisfaction with the members of the Legislative Council.

Members of the council should be reminded that this amendment was put forth by the Liberal Party and supported by the Greens and the Dignity Party—the Hon. Kelly Vincent—because it inserted the word ‘journalist’ into the bill, which allowed an individual, after going through a variety of stages of reporting and not being satisfied, to ultimately go to the free press. This was a recommendation of the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption. The Liberal Party still holds its view that this is a worthy amendment, and we will be voting no on the motion. This position is not just based on the recommendations of ICAC, but also on the important role of free press in a modern society, given the ever-increasing powers of the state, which need to be balanced to allow the citizen the ultimate right to go to the media in certain circumstances.

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL (11:08): I also attended, as a manager, on behalf of the Legislative Council. I want to put a couple of observations on the record. The first one is that we do not have many deadlock conferences, and I have been to some where there was no appetite at all to resolve the deadlock. However, with this one I will say that, despite a rocky start, the Attorney did put a number of alternative propositions to us. My understanding is that the nature of these deadlock conferences is that the deliberations are not on the record—it is a confidential process—so I do not propose to go into a lot of detail, other than to say that the conference looked at whether it was possible to narrow the range of appropriate authorities to whom a whistleblower could go and whether that might be an alternative to providing for journalists and MPs to be involved.

Ultimately, that was not accepted. I think there are serious problems with having a small range of destinations for whistleblowers. For example, if the only place you could go was the Office for Public Integrity or ICAC, it is unlikely that a lower level officer in a department would want to go to that level. They are more likely to want to go to a superior officer or someone who they are more comfortable with, rather than an overly legalistic body. So, I do not think that line of inquiry, whilst it was interesting, was ever really going to achieve what we want.

The main thing I want to say is that the idea of whistleblowers being able to go to a journalist, under the bill, is always a last resort. You do not get to go to the journalist first up if you are a whistleblower; you have to go to an appropriate authority. The only time that you can get whistleblower protection going to a journalist is if you have been ignored—if the proper authorities have ignored you. If you have put in a report or a request, or whatever, and nothing happens in a month, then, I think quite reasonably, people look for somewhere else to take their complaint. It is not a first port of call: it is a last port of call.

For the same reasons that the Hon. Andrew McLachlan just spoke of, the Greens will be voting against the motion. We believe that the Legislative Council should insist on the amendments that we made on an earlier date.

The Hon. D.G.E. HOOD (11:11): Very briefly, I would like to add the voice of the Australian Conservatives to the opposition that the Greens have already spoken of. We hold the same view that there are circumstances in which a journalist can be an option of last resort, if you like. As the Hon. Mr Parnell has just pointed out on behalf the Greens, it is most appropriate to have that option available to an individual when they have been essentially ignored by the more formal processes. We feel strongly about that. We will be supporting the position of the opposition on this and voting against the motion.

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT (11:12): Just for the record, the Dignity Party will be standing firm in its position to oppose this amendment. Given that we are talking about people in some very desperate situations going to a journalist to support some wrongdoings as an absolute last resort, I think this a very fair measure. As I speak, I am very aware of the fact that it was largely due to the media’s input that we have covered a lot of the atrocities that happened at Oakden in recent times.

I think this is the right thing to do in any situation and at any point in time, but given that we have a very recent example of exactly why it is important to have a free press to report to as a last resort if the other authorities have not been successful in properly dealing with the complaint, we will continue to support this amendment and oppose the motion before us.

The Hon. J.A. DARLEY (11:12): I will be opposing the amendment.

Motion negatived; bill laid aside.

See full session on Hansard