Zali Steggall MP Speaks on the Prosecution of David McBride and need for Whistleblower Protections

13 November 2023


I rise in support of this motion to suspend standing orders to call on the government to suspend the criminal prosecution of whistleblower David McBride without delay. This began today in the courts, and it goes to the heart of what many have been calling for over many years in relation to whistleblower protection—that is, to have proper, robust whistleblower protection. David McBride blew the whistle to expose horrible war crimes in Afghanistan. These were crimes done in all our names—in the name of Australia. Those soldiers represented Australia overseas and so we bear a moral responsibility for those crimes. It is also our responsibility to welcome those things being exposed. Whistleblowing is an action of last resort. David McBride blew the whistle to expose horrible war crimes in Afghanistan; he is brave and he is not a criminal. Whistleblowers pursue all avenues available. They raise concerns with their superiors and through the administrative process, if you look at the different ways in which it has occurred. 
They try to do it through internal ways, but when the organisational structures they belong to fail to address those concerns and fail to take action, the moral compass and the ethical dilemma they're faced with in knowing those facts and what must be done means that they take the incredibly brave course of action of blowing the whistle. We all benefit from that, as a society and as Australians. It is not done lightly and it is not done easily; it's a matter of last recourse. To be a whistleblower requires a conscious weighing up of what is morally and ethically required for the public good, and what consequences they may have to bear themselves. Currently, our laws are incredibly and wholly inadequate. I know that the government and the Attorney-General have indicated a willingness to look at these laws but they're taking too long. In the meantime, we have the wrong person on trial. Proper legislation in this space is needed as a matter of urgency. 
We need to think of the balance between the public interest and not having vexatious claims raised about the Public Service or departments. It's having people respect the administrative process and due process for raising complaints and concerns—for example, in agencies. It's also about acknowledging that the public interest should never outweigh the public interest of telling the truth and exposing wrongdoing in public life. If not, we will never know what's happening behind closed doors. This puts a veil of secrecy over our Public Service, Defence Force and any other system where we know that whistleblowers have actually done the Australian public a good. So I support this motion to call for intervention by the Attorney-General in this case. I appreciate that it's a matter of exceptional circumstances to intervene in these prosecutions, but those exceptional circumstances are borne out by the fact that these laws are acknowledged to be inadequate and incomplete. So we do have exceptional circumstances for that intervention. It's not something that should be called for as a matter of course; it should only be done in the most rare of circumstances.