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VOLUME 46(3)

 

Whistleblowing, National Security and the Constitutional Freedom of Political Communication

DANIELLE IRELAND-PIPER and JONATHAN CROWE

Whistleblowers promote the values of responsible government and the rule of law by drawing attention to criminal or other forms of wrongdoing in publicly accountable organisations. This article explores the relationship between whistleblowing, national security and the implied freedom of political communication under the Australian Constitution. Legislation such as the Crimes Act 1914 (Cth) (‘Crimes Act’), the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979 (Cth) (‘ASIO Act’) and the Australian Border Force Act 2015 (Cth) (‘Border Force Act’) makes it an offence to reveal certain types of information obtained as a Commonwealth officer. The Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013 (Cth) (‘PIDA’) offers limited protection to whistleblowers in the Commonwealth public sector, but this protection does not extend to information relating to intelligence operations. We argue that blanket criminalisation of unauthorised disclosure by Commonwealth officers or contractors under s 70 of the Crimes Act, along with similar prohibitions in s 35P of the ASIO Act and s 42 of the Border Force Act, offend the implied freedom of political communication by failing to strike an adequate balance between national security and organisational secrecy, on the one hand, and public debate and discussion, on the other. The courts should read down these laws to protect disclosures that hold significant public interest for discussion and debate over government policy or the performance of government officials.

The Perils and Pitfalls of Formal Equality in Australian Family Law Reform

BELINDA FEHLBERG, LISA SARMAS AND JENNY MORGAN

In this paper, we identify the influence of formal equality—and more specifically, formal gender equality (that is, treating men and women the same)—in central areas of major Australian family law reform over the past 20 years. Given the influence of formal equality and our concerns regarding this trend, we consider whether equality-based arguments should be abandoned entirely, at least in the family law context, and explore alternative approaches that could reframe the debate.

The ‘Modern Approach’ to Statutory Interpretation and the Principle of Legality: An Issue of Coherence?

DAN MEAGHER

The ‘modern approach’ to interpretation requires that effect be given to the ordinary meaning of a statutory text in its wider context and with reference to its purpose. This article interrogates the interpretive approach used by the High Court in fundamental rights cases to assess its compatibility with this ‘modern approach’. It asks, specifically, whether the strict text-based approach used in these cases (which involves the application of the principle of legality) is sufficient to determine the meaning of ambiguous statutory texts. The argument made is that the coherent application of the ‘modern approach’ requires that this interpretive approach be justified.

‘Pretaliatory’ Enforcement Action for Chilling Whistleblowing Through Corporate Agreements: Lessons from North America

OLIVIA DIXON

Studies have shown that potential whistleblowers are reluctant to report misconduct because they fear retaliation. In Australia, fear of retaliation is exacerbated for private-sector employees where the lack of prescriptive legislation aggravates vulnerability in all but exceptional circumstances. Through examining the codes of conduct of Australia’s 100 largest listed companies (‘Codes’) this article argues that while Codes have the potential to provide an important regulatory function through facilitating whistleblowing, the breadth of confidentiality undertakings contained therein may instead be chilling potential whistleblowers from speaking up. While companies have legitimate interests in protecting confidential information, it is well-established that employees may disclose their employer’s unlawful conduct to the government, even if such disclosure is in violation of the company’s confidentiality policy. To affirm this right, in the United States (US), federal regulators have recently taken ‘pretaliatory’ enforcement action against companies for requiring employees to execute confidentiality agreements that stifle the reporting of possible violations of federal laws. Such regulation by enforcement has successfully effected cultural change through facilitating widespread amendments to US corporate confidentiality agreements. Accordingly, this article argues that any future Australian legislation should include an ‘anti-confidentiality provision’ similar to the US and Canadian frameworks to affirm an employee’s right to communicate with a regulator directly, despite any purported agreement or corporate policy to the contrary.

A Statute’s Meaning Need Not Be Its Law

JAMIE BLAKER

There is a theory of statutory interpretation that is simple, elegant and well-subscribed. The theory is known as the meaning thesis, and it holds that the law of a statute consists in the ordinary linguistic meaning that is communicated by the statute’s language. In a recent article Dale Smith has sought to discredit the meaning thesis. Here I will seek to discredit the thesis further, this time by drawing on the accomplishments of linguistics and the philosophy of language. In order for the meaning thesis to succeed, it must be demonstrated that the thesis is consistent with the established common law rules of interpretation. However, some of these rules appear to require that judges defy the plain linguistic meanings of statutes in limited circumstances. The meaning theorist’s challenge, then, is to find some way to show that the established rules of interpretation do not truly cause judges to defy the language of statutes, despite appearances to the contrary. In this article, I will explain why the meaning theorist only has bad options in this regard. Of the available options, meaning theorists have settled for an argument that is premised on a flawed theory of how language communicates meaning. The theory of communication in question was proposed by H P Grice in the 1950s, but discredited by his contemporaries.

 

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