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Senate Centrelink Inquiry reveals 'Culture of fear' amongst public servants

8 March 2017
Senator Skye Kakoschke-Moore
Skye Kakoschke-Moore, Nick Xenophon Team Senator for South Australia

Centrelink staff have been too afraid to communicate their concerns about Centrelink’s botched debt recovery program, according to evidence given at a Senate Inquiry today.

This was revealed in questioning of representatives of the CPSU by NXT Senator Skye Kakoschke-Moore at the inquiry into Centrelink’s debt recovery program in Canberra.

Senator Kakoschke-Moore said it was a glaring example of the failings of the Public Interest Disclosure Act (“the Act”), because despite the supposed protection for whistleblowers, people were still afraid to make a disclosure. Under the Act, whistleblowers must raise a complaint internally and can only go outside the organisation if there is a serious threat to health, safety or the environment.

“The CPSU told the Committee that they are speaking to their members via personal phones outside of hours as they cannot guarantee there won’t be adverse consequences for making a disclosure about potential wrong doing,” Senator Kakoschke-Moore said.

“They also claim Centrelink staff believe their emails and Facebook accounts are being monitored by the Department of Human Services to ensure they aren’t making external disclosures. This level of fear is totally unacceptable.”

Senator Kakoschke-Moore said it’s clear that the whistleblower protections the Nick Xenophon Team secured in November last year within the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill that applies to union and employer groups, must be extended to the public sector as soon as possible.

The Government has committed to a process of private and public sector reform by mid-2018.

Those reforms secured by NXT:

  • Expanded the scope of wrongdoing to which whistleblowing can apply;
  • Expanded the definitions of reprisal actions;
  • Instituted, for the first time, a compensation scheme for civil remedies for harm caused to whistleblowers;
  • Put a positive onus on organisations to take steps to protect whistleblowers;
  • Allow disclosures to be made anonymously.

“I have serious concerns about the culture of fear that exists within the DHS given the claims made today, particularly about communications being tracked and the enormous scrutiny on Centrelink staff,” Senator Kakoschke-Moore said.

“These reforms implemented for the public sector would finally combat the culture of fear that exists in so many departments, organisations and companies when it comes to exposing wrongdoing. We need to pull the plug out and give whistleblowers a safe environment to air matters where it’s so clearly in the public interest to do so.”

A Parliamentary Joint Committee Inquiry into whistleblower reforms, another measure secured by the NXT, is also underway: https://nick.nxtmps.org.au/media/releases/time-to-blow-the-whistle/