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- Improved heath and education services.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Government Gags Whistleblowers in Rushed Ombudsman's Bill

Media Release - 24 November 2012

Sweeping new statutory secrecy provisions have been enacted for the Ombudsman in legislation that was rushed through the NSW Parliament with less than 24 hours notice this week.  The legislation was presented as urgent to allow for the Ombudsman to deal with the police wiretapping scandal uncovered in Taskforce Emblems, but the new secrecy provisions extend to all hearings before the Ombudsman.

As reported in the Sydney Morning Herald:

Greens MP and Justice Spokesperson, David Shoebridge said:

"This legislation was rushed through the parliament in less than 24 hours
with no public notice and no public consultation.

"The Ombudsman has never made out a case in any of his public reports for
increased secrecy powers.

"This legislation makes it a crime for a whistleblower who gives evidence
or a document to the Ombudsman in a hearing to then publicly release the
documents or tell anyone what they had said in the hearing.

"Gagging whistleblowers a step backwards for accountability in NSW.

"The government said it had discussed these matters with the Ombudsman, who
supported the legislation.

"Not only do these powers make the Ombudsman less accountable, the process
that has lead to this legislation has been a behind closed doors
conversation between the government and the Ombudsman.

"This is hardly best practice for any government agency, let alone the
public accountability watchdog.

"The Greens recognise there may be a case for some secrecy when the
Ombudsman is inquiring into matters that have been before the Crime
Commission or the PIC, but not for the bread and butter inquiries the
Ombudsman undertakes into government practices.

"A Greens amendment to limit these new secrecy provisions to matters
involving the PIC and the Crime Commission was defeated by a combined vote
of the Government and Opposition," Mr Shoebridge said.

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