23 October 2017

Consultation on Whistleblowers Bill 2017

The Minister for Revenue and Financial Services, the Hon Kelly O’Dwyer MP, today released for public consultation exposure draft legislation – the Treasury Laws Amendment (Whistleblowers) Bill 2017.

“The draft legislation delivers on our commitments under the Open Government National Action Plan, and as announced in the 2016 Budget,” Minister O’Dwyer said.

These reforms will, for the first time, create a single whistleblower protection regime in the Corporations Act, to cover the corporate, financial and credit sectors, and create a new whistleblower protection regime in the taxation law, to protect those who expose tax misconduct.

These reforms are a significant milestone for whistleblowers – they can now come forward with confidence that they will be protected under a comprehensive and robust legal framework, knowing that they will have access to redress if they are victimised as a result of blowing the whistle.

The reforms to the Corporations Act include:

  • expanding the protections to a broader class of people;
  • expanding the types of disclosures that will be protected under the framework;
  • allowing disclosures to parliamentarians and the media in certain circumstances, if preconditions are satisfied;
  • imposing new stringent obligations to maintain the confidentiality of a whistleblower’s identity;
  • making it significantly easier for a whistleblower to bring a claim for compensation where he or she has been victimised;
  • creating a new civil penalty offence so that law enforcement agencies will be able to take action against companies where the civil standard of proof can be met; and
  • requiring all large companies to have a whistleblower policy in place, with penalties for failing to do so.

The new whistleblower protections in the taxation law are broadly consistent with the enhanced protections under the Corporations Act, and will facilitate disclosures about tax misconduct being made directly to the ATO.  

The Government’s recently formed Expert Advisory Panel will now consider the draft legislation as part of the first phase of the Expert Panel’s work. The Panel will assess the draft legislation against the recently released report of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services into Whistleblower Protections in the corporate, public and not-for-profit sectors (PJC Report), and will provide advice to Government on how the draft legislation measures up against the PJC Report’s recommendations.

The Government will consider the Expert Panel’s advice and the feedback received from the consultation before finalising the legislation for introduction to Parliament in the last sitting week of the year.

The second phase of the Expert Panel’s work will involve considering the remaining recommendations in the PJC Report and providing further information and advice to Government, to assist it in formulating its response to the PJC Report. 

“We greatly appreciate the work of the PJC and the effort that has gone into formulating the recommendations. The Government recognises that it will take time to examine these, and I look forward to receiving the Expert Panel’s views on this as it moves into the second phase of its work,” Minister O’Dwyer said.

Stakeholders are invited to comment on the draft legislation and supporting explanatory material available at the Treasury website. Submissions for this consultation will close on 3 November 2017.