Independent MP and former whistleblower Andrew Wilkie has warned that the new National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) will be "much diminished" unless a new dedicated federal body is set up to cover the act of whistleblowing.
Mr Wilkie, independent MP Helen Haines, LNP senator Paul Scarr, and independent Senator David Pocock have joined forces with Transparency International Australia (TIA), the Human Rights Law Centre, and Griffith University's Centre for Governance and Public Policy to propose a model for a potentially world-leading Whistleblower Protection Authority.
The groups, backed by former whistleblowers, are presenting their preferred model to Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus while insisting the appetite is in the current Parliament to create such a protection and enforcement body.
Mr Wilkie, who blew the whistle in 2003 over the Iraq war while working as an intelligence officer at the Office of National Assessments, said a whistleblower protection authority was the "missing link" in Australia's anti-corruption system.
"The NACC will only be as effective as the complaints that come to it, or the allegations that come to it," the MP told reporters in Canberra. "In other words, if we don't have whistleblowers, the NACC will be seriously deficient."
"You see, it's the other part of the jigsaw. We need people to speak up and to bring the allegations to the anti-corruption commission for the anti-corruption commission to examine. Without those whistleblowers, without that support for whistleblowers, then frankly, the NACC will be much diminished."
Mr Wilkie questioned where whistleblowers currently can go for assistance. He said people who go to him as a whistleblowing MP for advice, should go to him as a last resort, but they have come to him as a first port of call.
The Attorney General has a process underway for stage two of public sector whistleblowing reforms, but Mr Wilkie has called on the government to make good on promises and dare to go further.
"There's been some technical amendments to the Public Interest Disclosure Act and no talk of changing [private sector reform] the Corporations Act. I'm putting the challenge out there to the current government - honour your election promise, be fair dinkum about this and rewrite the legislation and make it effective and then put in place all of the other integrity measures," he said.
"I think the jury's out on this government. It's still got perhaps a year more to run. They have time to deliver on their promise. I don't doubt that the Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has a genuine interest in this but really, the jury's out."
A spokesperson for the Attorney-General said the government is "committed to delivering strong, effective and accessible protections for whistleblowers." A statement highlighted amendments to the Public Interest Disclosure Act passing Parliament last June, as well as plans for what is to come.
"The government has commenced the next stage in progressing its commitment to strengthen the public sector whistleblowing framework and is currently considering the outcomes of a consultation process undertaken in late 2023," the spokesperson said.
The Chair of Transparency International Australia, Professor AJ Brown, said the draft design principles released on Monday offer a body that would be an independent, world's best practice statutory agency or office.
It would, as outlined, enforce legal protections, provide support, advice, outreach and advocacy, and be available to prospective, current and former whistleblowers.
"A model like this that we're proposing would be new, built for Australia, and probably set a new standard internationally," he said.
"Because there's a problem all around the world, and Australia is proof of this as well, that it's true that parliaments and governments quite like setting up whistleblower protections on paper, but that's actually the easy bit. Enforcing those protections and making it real requires institutional support and investment."
"There's a number of different models. None of them are off the shelf. No political system is the same."
The groups say they are briefing the Attorney General's office and wider Members of Parliament including through the Parliamentary Friends of Governance Group.