There are many good features in the legislation, including an Australian first in including a reference to a government information contravention as wrongdoing, but in some respects it doesn't match the "world beater" standard of recent Queensland legislation according to Professor A.J Brown, one of Australia's leading experts in this field, particularly circumstances in which protection is extended to disclosure of wrongdoing to the media. The National Secretary of Whistleblowers Australia was reported as saying " they’ve fiddled around at the edges of the legislation and in the end have set up systems that have a lot of room to do nothing."
Welcome changes include new oversight of whistleblower protection by the Ombudsman and the Protected Disclosures Steering Committee, with the Ombudsman responsible for raising public awareness of the act, assisting agencies, and monitoring and auditing compliance; a requirement for all public authorities to adopt internal protected disclosures policies and prepare annual reports on their obligations under the Act; providing protection for a public official where a disclosure is made with an honest belief on reasonable grounds that information shows or tends to show wrongdoing; and extending protection to individuals who are independent contractors of public authorities engaged under a contract to provide services to or on behalf of the public authority where they disclose public sector wrongdoing.
"Government information contravention", defined as "conduct of a kind that constitutes a failure to exercise functions in accordance with any provision of the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009", has been added to corrupt conduct, maladministration, and serious and substantial waste as subjects of a protected disclosure. While arguably maladministration in any event, the inclusion of this provision gives added weight to the importance of proper conduct in the making of a decision on access, and to the offence provisions in the GIPA act for improper interference in decisions, or concealing requested information.
The Department of Parliamentary Services, the Department of the Legislative Assembly and the Department of the Legislative Council are included in the definition of "public authority."
The penalty for reprisals against a person have been increased to 100 penalty units ($11,000) or imprisonment for 2 years, or both.( Apparently no one has been succesfully prosecuted since the introduction of the act.)
"If a government agency or integrity authority fails to act when it should, there are no arbitrary time limits or other artificial restrictions on when a public servant may go public. As in NSW, there is a requirement to wait for six months if a whistleblower simply does not know whether or not the agency is doing anything. However, if it is clear that an agency is not dealing with a disclosure, including a "deemed refusal" to act, or as soon as the agency has completed its inquiries and if it decides not to act, then a reasonable public servant can go to the media immediately. This could be days, hours or even minutes after making the original disclosure, if the circumstances were sufficiently urgent.
The only requirement is that, at all times, the public official must have an honest and reasonable belief that the information they are disclosing is about official misconduct, serious maladministration or the like, which needs to be rectified. If an agency's response is professional, and the outcome is properly explained to the whistleblower, the whistleblower will still need to be sure they have a reasonable basis for believing that outcome is wrong. The provision is not a licence for disgruntled public servants to simply complain, and rush to the media with their complaints."