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Councillor calls for more support for whistle blowers

Councillor calls for more support for whistle blowers
Rhonda Dredge

The City of Melbourne has once again passed a motion unanimously in support of Julian Assange and his immediate release from jail, but is that enough?

The motion was proposed by Cr Dr Olivia Ball in late February prior to a rally in early March at Queensbridge Square.

The Anything to Say rally was organised by Pen Melbourne to focus attention on whistleblowers, not just Assange.

Cr Dr Ball stood on a chair next to life-sized sculptures of Assange, Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning to have her say.

She told Southbank News, in a frank interview about the issues, that whistleblowers and their protection had never been so important at both global and local levels.

On Monday, March 27, a court in Adelaide held that a whistleblower in the Australian Tax Office could be charged.

“He wasn’t protected by the legislation,” Cr Dr Ball said, despite the fact that his allegations against the ATO had been substantiated.

One of the main issues, according to Cr Dr Ball, was that Victoria’s Public Interest Disclosures Act 2013 which covers the public sector identifies specific people in an organisation to whom disclosures can be made.

“When people first notice something dodgy they don’t think as a whistleblower,” Cr Dr Ball said. “They don’t ask: what are my legal rights? They go to other people. The Act says you can only tell this designated person.”

If you do a Google search on “whistleblower” and “City of Melbourne” a document called “Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblowers) Procedures for the City of Melbourne” comes up, dated 2012.

According to the council, this policy is reviewed and renewed annually, however Cr Dr Ball said she was not aware of the document.

She said she was concerned that, even though it was before her time, if the designated person was the Lord Mayor that would have been a problem when there had been allegations in the public interest against former Lord Mayor Robert Doyle.

Further down, the document says that the policy was brought in during 2020 and that the CEO of the City of Melbourne, a manager or a designated officer can be the recipient of written or oral evidence.

It goes on to say, “If someone makes a disclosure to an agency that isn’t authorised to receive public interest disclosures, the disclosure will not be protected under the Act.”

Cr Dr Ball is urging attention to this section of the Act. “We need a system to educate staff,” she said.

The outspoken Greens councillor supports Assange and his methods because they provide a system for whistleblowers to remain anonymous.

“The genius of Wikileaks was that he had the brilliant idea of how you could submit inflammatory information to be published anonymously,” she said. “That model was effective.”

She said Chelsea Manning was not tracked for some time.

The rally of 100 people at Queensbridge Square has “put Southbank on the map” as a key political signifier of Melbourne.

“They wanted Fed Square but there wasn’t enough lead time. It had to be big enough for a large group. It gave them the skyline.”

Footage of the sculptures, which have visited 22 countries, has been broadcast globally. •

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