There is no satisfactory legal framework to underpin the Independent Review into the Workplace Culture within ACT Public Health Services announced by Health Minister Meegan Fitzharris today.
Without the legal protections provided by the Inquiries Act 1991, witnesses and the panel members remain vulnerable, and the review panel will be limited in powers.
Ms Fitzharris’ proposed legal framework – the Privacy Act, Public Sector Management Act and the Fair Work Act – fails to provide sufficient protections and powers.
There are no mechanisms to protect participants, take evidence, and compel witnesses.
The Minister has provided no guarantees that witnesses appearing before the panel will have the same protections as a witness proceeding in the Supreme Court.
If this review makes an adverse finding about someone there is nothing to protect the panel members from legal action.
There are also no mechanisms to deal with witnesses who refuse to give evidence, or witnesses who give false evidence, with no liabilities for people who may commit perjury.
Without a strong legal framework to protect witnesses and the review panel, the government’s assurances that people will be protected are meaningless.
The lack of an adequate legal framework may also discourage health staff and related witnesses from coming forward and the panel may in return not get the full story.
If this were to transpire, the review would be a waste of the staff’s time and a waste of taxpayers’ money.
The ACT government needs to guarantee that there are no health staff in the Secretariat.