I welcome the Minister for Justice and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, and wish him well following his recent announcement.
Vol. 206 No. 2
I welcome the Minister for Justice and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, and wish him well following his recent announcement.
I echo the Chair's words in wishing the Minister well. On section 1 which refers to the 2001 (amendment) Act, I wish to ask him whether any consideration was given to consolidating the Prevention of Corruption Acts in this legislation which, clearly, we welcome, as we did in the Dáil when it was introduced two years ago. Therefore, it has had a long genesis and passage through that House. I do not know why its passage has taken so long because there was no opposition to it and certainly there were no substantive amendments tabled either by us or Fine Gael in the Dáil. The Minister's were the only substantive amendments tabled.
Was any consideration given to codifying the legislation dealing with the prevention of corruption? The Council of Europe Group of States Against Corruption, GRECO, in its report of 2009 on Ireland noted a number of prosecutions taken under the Prevention of Corruption Acts and so forth. It stated reform of the legislation could bring greater clarity to the relevant provisions and benefit the wider public and those operating the legislation. It is unfortunate that we are still dealing with the 1906 Act, the 2001 Act and now this new legislation. The final provision of the Bill states they will be cited together as the Prevention of Corruption Acts. There is, therefore, an opportunity to codify all of the related anti-corruption legislation under one cover. The Minister has addressed other recommendations made in the GRECO report in different provisions of the Bill and it seems appropriate under section 1 to raise this general point that emerges from the report. It would make sense to benefit the general public and those dealing with the legislation. Given the enormous level of public concern about corruption and so on, it would have been a good idea to take the opportunity to codify the law, particularly given that it has taken so long to get the Bill to this House.
At the Law Society annual dinner in July I announced that I had asked my officials to move on codification of the law on corruption. I repeated this announcement on Second Stage last week or the week before. The Bill was in gestation at the time and well advanced. The sooner it is completed the better. My officials will begin a complete codification of the law on corruption.
I was aware of the Minister's comments, but it seemed an opportune time to commence codification when the Bill was being prepared, particularly given the length of time it had taken to get it to this House. However, I am glad to hear codification is on the agenda.
Perhaps the Minister might confirm that this section will answer GRECO's concerns about a particular matter. When it reported in 2009, there was no jurisdiction over an Irish national who committed an offence abroad where he or she did not have the status of a public official. I understand this section addresses that issue, but I would like the Minister to confirm this.
To be brief, it does.
As amendment No. 5 is related to amendment No. 1, they can be discussed together, by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 5, line 21, after "opinion" to insert "or suspicion".
The purpose of this amendment is clear. It is simply to provide protection for whistleblowers who report their suspicion as well as their opinion. In the proposed new sections 8A(1) and 8A(5)(a) to be inserted in the 2001 Act the Minister provides that there will only be protection for a whistleblower who gives an opinion. We suggest a broader protection to provide protection in reporting a suspicion. I believe the Minister claimed in the Dáil that it was not necessary to include the word “suspicion”, but it might be preferable for the sake of certainty to add the extra term.
In respect of protection for whistleblowers in section 4, the Labour Party very much welcomes this provision, but it envisaged broader protection for them to replace the Government's preferred sectoral approach, whereby whistleblower protection would be provided in many items of legislation, with generic legislation to protect all whistleblowers in the public, private and non-profit sectors. As the Minister is aware, we brought forward a whistleblowers protection Bill in January this year which would have provided such general protection. As the Minister will also be aware, Transparency International recommended this year that such generic legislation would be preferable. The Standards in Public Office Commission also stated this year that the introduction of comprehensive public interest disclosure and whistleblower protection laws would send a clear signal that wrongdoing was not to be tolerated. Instead whistleblower protection provisions are inserted in myriad items of legislation by the Government. The sectoral approach is very different.
The Department's paper on white collar crime was published in October. I attended the seminar in the Criminal Courts of Justice when the Minister spoke on it. The point is made in the paper that whistleblower protection provisions are contained in a number of Acts such as the Competition Act 2002, the Garda Síochána Act 2005, the Consumer Protection Act 2007, the Chemicals Act 2008, the Charities Act 2009, the National Asset Management Agency Act 2009, the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work 2005 and so on. It seems a more preferable approach — the one recommended by experts such as Transparency International — would be to enact a generic or general protection provision for whistleblowers in one item of legislation, as the Labour Party proposed. That would mean one Department taking responsibility for the protection of whistleblowers. Instead various Departments are taking responsibility for their protection, which raises issues about consistency. This is a much bigger issue than this Bill, but section 4 raises the question again as to why the Government has not opted to provide more general protection that would offer greater consistency and certainty for whistleblowers. Having said that, we welcome the section, but a better approach would be to go for a generic provision, not a sectoral method, to provide protection.
If my distinguished colleague, Senator Bacik, requires a seconder, I will be very happy to second the amendment and, in particular, to rely on her expertise as she is, after all, a professor of law. I particularly applaud her for tabling this amendment because it raises the question of consistency. If such phrases are used throughout this and other legislation, obviously there should be consistency, although I would have thought an opinion might be taken to include suspicion, although it might be one element in forming an opinion.
People are very imprecise in their use of language. Even on the airwaves this morning I was astonished to hear someone on RTE describe a phrase contained in some Oxbridge review of the influence of Irish literature on the English language and refer to something that was obviously fromFinnegans Wake as a notable quotation from Ulysses.
It would be very surprising indeed to find it in it and I challenge them to do so. Precision of language is important, even on the airwaves.
I join in the comments made by the Leas-Chathaoirleach and Senator Bacik about the Minister's future plans. I regret he will be leaving politics at the next election because he has been very clear, forthright and fearless. I have not always agreed with him and I noted that he listed some of the achievements. I would have added to that the partial success of the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010 and I thank him for that. I wish him and his family well in the future.
In regard to the general context of this which was opened up by Senator Bacik, it is very welcome that there is protection for whistleblowers because we certainly need it. I would like to give two examples in this regard. I was given information by someone about the actions of one of the largest banks in the International Financial Services Centre which was flagrantly and regularly breaching liquidity ratios in the most extraordinary fashion. I laid the information before this House and got an equivocal answer from the Minister. The matter was eventually, more or less, cleared up but it was swept under the carpet, there were no sanctions and nothing really happened. Nothing was reported, even though I issued a script to the media which I very rarely do, until it was taken up by theAllegemeine Zeitung. Then a one page article appeared in The Irish Times which managed to use the script I produced without once mentioning Seanad Éireann. I thought that was quite astonishing. The worst aspect of it was that man had to leave his job. He is now unemployed and under serious pressure.
There is the other case of the gentleman who had a responsible position in the Irish Red Cross who pointed out in the blog that substantial moneys, which had been donated, were lying unused in a bank account somewhere down the country, and for this, he was got rid of. I find that absolutely appalling. I very much hope this legislation will act to protect a person in that regard.
Again, I agree with what Senator Bacik said that rather than operate on a kind of section by section basis, a full whistleblowers Bill, something of the kind suggested by the Labour Party, would be worth contemplating by the next Government. It is obviously far too late to consider anything like this now but as a stop-gap measure, I welcome the existence of this clause in this legislation.
I support the amendments. I assume an opinion includes a suspicion. The term "opinion" is not defined, although I know it is taken as it is generally understood, that is, a considered position. It is perhaps unnecessary given the protection of the accused is set out in section 4 which refers to any information furnished which is known to be false or misleading. It also states, "A person who makes a communication under subsection (1), which the person knows to be false, that a person has committed or is committing an offence under thePrevention of Corruption Acts 1889 to 2010 shall be guilty of an offence.” That is quite a deterrent for anyone even to raise a suspicion. A suspicion is perhaps less onerous than an opinion. There are protections in order that one would not voice a suspicion frivolously. I support the amendments.
I thank Senator Norris for his words. I was not here for the Order of Business and if anyone said any nice words about me, I thank them.
I am advised that an opinion can be formed on a belief which would encompass actual knowledge of suspicion. Given that an opinion can be formed on a suspicion, the addition of the word "suspicion" is not required and this has been considered by the Parliamentary Counsel. It was debated in the other House as well. Accordingly, as it is considered that the addition of the words in the amendments would not broaden the existing meaning of the provision nor would the amendments assist in further clarifying the test which would determine whether the protection under this measure for a person making a report in good faith would apply, I am not disposed to accept these amendments.
On the broader issue as to whether we have composite legislation on whistleblowing covering all aspects of life or whether we have specific provisions dealing with particular issues, the Government had a considerable debate on this a number of years ago. I was in the Cabinet when it had this debate and the strong advice of the then Attorney General, which was confirmed by the subsequent one, was that it would be preferable and probably more sustainable from a legal point of view if specific provisions were included in different legislation dealing with a myriad of aspects of Irish life. It was believed that if the composite legislation was challenged and found to be deficient, it would have ramifications across the system. It was also believed that it would be far better if a provision was specifically tailored to meet the issue in particular areas and that if a challenge was mounted, the provision would be more robust because it would have been included by legislators to deal with the issue.
Senator Bacik listed a myriad of legislation. I will give a longer list because it shows that it would be difficult to address all the issues in a composite Bill. Those issues range from the Protections for Persons Reporting Child Abuse Act 1998, the Competition Act 2002, the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 and the Garda Síochána Act 2005 under which whistleblowing would be completely different from that under the Competition Act 2002 or the Health, Safety and Welfare at Work Act 2005. I also mention the Communications Regulation (Amendment) Act 2007, the Consumer Protection Act 2007, the Medical Practitioners Act 2007, the Chemicals Act 2008, the Labour Services (Amendment) Act 2009, the National Asset Management Agency Act 2009, the Charities Act 2009 and the Inland Fisheries Act 2010.
A number of Bills being prepared contain specific whistleblowers protection, including the Employment Agency Regulation Bill 2009, the Employment Law Compliance Bill 2008 and the Local Government (Dublin Mayor and Regional Authority) Bill 2010.
The Minister will be accused of filibustering if he is not careful.
Senator Mullen is a dab hand at that. Every aspect is dealt with there. It might have been simpler to have generic legislation but the strong view of the then Attorney General and the current one — I recall the debate at Cabinet in that regard — was that this was a better way to proceed.
I was glad to hear the Minister state that he consulted the Parliamentary Counsel on this. There is a significant difference between the terms "opinion" and "suspicion". In criminal law, opinion evidence means something very specific and relates to expertise and a certain level of knowledge whereas suspicion requires a much lesser degree of knowledge or expertise.
When talking about whistleblower protection, we need to ensure the perception is that people will be protected if they disclose matters in good faith, in particular where they believe corruption is going on in their organisation or they believe there is fraud by an employer or colleagues in an organisation. The difficulty is that if it appears people are only protected if they have gone to the trouble of forming an opinion or have particular expertise, it may put them off from disclosing.
I am grateful to Senator Norris for reminding us of the enormous sacrifice whistleblowers have had to make in the past, yet they have served an enormous public value by blowing the whistle on corrupt practices in organisations. We must ensure not only that legal protection is afforded to such people but that there is a perception that whistleblowers will be protected. That will encourage people to come forward.
The Department's paper on organised and white collar crime indicates that in the US, financial incentives are now being introduced for whistleblowers to encourage people to blow the whistle, emphasising the public value of whistleblowing. Transparency International suggested that in our legislation, just and equitable rewards should be made to whistleblowers subject to reprisals. There should be a perception as well as legal protection afforded to people, even where they do not have a degree of expertise or the idea may be that such people have not a fully informed opinion. That is why we proposed the amendment dealing with suspicion.
On the more general point about generic legislation versus sectoral legislation, in 2006 the Government came to the decision described by the Minister. On the Attorney General's advice it was decided that individual statutes may be a more appropriate way to afford protection to whistleblowers. I am grateful to the Minister for providing what is almost a full list of those statutes. The counterargument is that where there is specific legislation affording whistleblower protection of the sort described, gaps can emerge. Just because we have protection in the Chemicals Act or Charities Act, for example, this does not mean there are no areas in which there is no protection. The great advantage of a general protection law is that it does not allow for those sorts of gaps.
In Britain the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 provides a cross-sectoral basis for whistleblower protection and contains general provisions enabling protection for disclosures made to employers, regulators, police and even members of parliament. That is the sort of general protection we might consider introducing here, with general provisions made to ensure protection from reprisals, whistleblowers who are victimised or dismissed can claim compensation and so forth. I do not see why we cannot have a general provision in the same way.
I accept that this is a slightly bigger issue than what we are dealing with here. I welcome this protection, as far as it goes, although there are difficulties with maintaining this position on sectoral protection only.
The Minister has explained what an opinion means or can mean, indicating that it can include suspicion. We are establishing a criminal offence in respect of a whistleblower. Any case that would be considered by a court would be looking specifically at what an opinion means, reasons for forming an opinion etc. It would be very helpful if in the definition section, the definition which the Minister has given of an opinion for the purposes of the criminal offence would be set out. If that is what an opinion is to mean in this criminal law sense, we should set it out in the definition section.
I wish to raise with the Minister the issue of opinion and suspicion. Although we are dealing with national legislation, international elements of corruption have been evident recently. The "Panorama" programme on Monday considered allegations against FIFA officials and issues of match-fixing. Court cases have also been taken against people in Germany. I know this legislation is targeted specifically to the national scene but I would like the Minister's opinion on whether our national legislation is strong enough to cope with international attacks in sport. I hate the phrase "whistleblower" but if people want to come forward, I understand the need to protect and encourage people in doing so.
This is more relevant to the section.
It takes in issues of suspicion as well. If there is a suspicion that there is ongoing national or international organised crime, do we have a strong enough national capability to deal with it? Does the Minister agree that we should have an international group, akin to the World Anti-Doping Agency which considers drugs issues, specifically to consider the sporting area?
Senator Keaveney raises a very interesting issue and she gave me a book, which I have yet to read, relating to corruption in sport.
The Minister may have more time for it now.
Yes. I saw part of the television programme, which was quite damning. This legislation looks to build on existing law and implement the commitment we have on the convention on bribery of foreign public officials in international business transactions. That is what the Bill is about but we have gone further. Senator Bacik would accept that although we are dealing with whistleblowing in specific pieces of legislation, the Bill deals with whistleblowing and corruption generally across the system. It could be regarded as providing an ability for people to give information on alleged corruption in any facet of life.
With regard to the amendment, we discussed the section with the Parliamentary Counsel in view of what was said in the other House. The strong view was that the word "opinion" encompasses knowledge or suspicion. In response to Senator Regan and the suggestion that there should be a definition of "opinion", the view is that the word is widely recognised and understood by the courts of the land. To insert a definition of "opinion" would lead to a great difficulty in encompassing everything that might be regarded as an opinion. It might be best left to the Judiciary to determine what an opinion is or involves in a particular instance of adjudication.
Without labouring the point, if the words "or suspicion" were included, there would be no need to define an opinion as it would be very clear that it was not a view formed with a great deal of information but also a view formed with a lesser degree of information. It would be appropriate to include "suspicion", given that section 8A(1)(a) of the principal Act would make it clear persons are not protected where they have been reckless as to whether suspicion or an opinion was false, misleading, frivolous or vexatious. There is a protection against false allegations but there is also a protection against allegations which are simply frivolous or vexatious. Adding “suspicion” does not widen the issue too much but would send a message that whistleblowing is encouraged and whistleblowers reporting suspicions of corruption in good faith are doing a public service in doing so.
I disagree with the Minister on the definition as I do not believe that in the manner this is framed, an opinion can include suspicion. If we read this as including suspicion, section 4 would read:
A person who, apart from this section, would be so liable shall not be liable in damages in respect of the communication, whether in writing or otherwise, by the person to an appropriate person of his or her suspicion that an offence under thePrevention of Corruption Acts 1889 to 2010 has been or is being committed unless—
(a) in communicating his or her suspicion to that appropriate person did so—
(i) knowing it to be false,
How can a suspicion be false?
How can a suspicion be misleading, frivolous, vexatious or reckless as to whether it was false, misleading, frivolous or vexatious? The whole section appears to be constructed around a specific meaning of the word "opinion". This means a suspicion requires facts upon which one would reasonably form an opinion based on these facts. Therefore, when a whistleblower has a suspicion, he or she has an obligation to check and double check the suspicion before forming an opinion because failure to do so renders him or her liable to criminal sanction. There is a contradiction in the manner in which the provision is framed, especially if, as the Minister argues, an opinion includes suspicion. If it is to include suspicion, the word "suspicion" must be clarified either in the section or in the definitions.
I concur with Senator Regan. In subsection (5) a reference is made to an employee "having formed an opinion". This requires that the person has done a certain amount of work in coming to an opinion, which is rather different from having come to a suspicion.
On whistleblower protection, it occurred to me that one specific act of whistleblowing by a midwife in a maternity hospital prevented a great deal of further harm being done in the Minister's constituency. The young woman in question blew the whistle after years of malpractice by a particular consultant who had unnecessarily removed women's reproductive organs over a period of years. As the Minister is aware, this is a matter of public knowledge which was the subject of RTE documentaries and dramas and a public inquiry into the practices in question. The Minister read out a list in his Department which details Acts and Bills containing protections for whistleblowers. The legislation listed does not provide protection for a young midwife, nurse or doctor who may blow the whistle on malpractice in the health sector or a particular hospital.
The act of whistleblowing on the part of the young midwife to whom I refer has done more public service than any other act of whistleblowing and people will remember it as having done the most good. The individual has never been publicly identified, including in Judge Harding Clark's report on the case. While we do not know what happened to her, the general wisdom is that it was made very difficult for her to continue working in the hospital in question. I have not found protection for whistleblowers in the health service in the Minister's list.
While I continue to support Senator Bacik and hope we can come to a speedy resolution of the amendment, I retain my view that suspicion is an element in the formation of an opinion. I am aware of the extremely serious case to which the Senator referred which involved a very brave woman. It is astonishing that no one spoke out previously at the hospital in question given the appalling practices and completely unnecessary operations, including symphysiotomy, which were carried out there.
They were afraid to speak out.
I understand the young woman observed developments for some time and formed an opinion as a result of a suspicion. This argument does not support Senator Bacik's case in quite the degree she believes because——
If I may clarify the issue for the Senator, I was referring to general protection for whistleblowers and pointing out that whistleblowers in the health service and hospitals may fall between the gaps of the specific statutes to which the Minister referred. That is the problem with the sectoral approach. I was not referring to the opinion-suspicion issue.
Most whistleblowers are very serious people. They do not decide they do not like the look of a fellow, wonder if he has been up to something odd and make a report against him. All those with whom I have dealt are serious people who progressed from suspicion to opinion, as is appropriate. At the same time, I am pleased to support the amendments, although the Minister appears to be completely unwilling to take them on board.
I have been very engaged by the previous speakers' comments. Having considered Senator Bacik's argument, I am starting to lean against her proposition to introduce the word "suspicion" given what can happen when people are irresponsible in the formation of a certain opinion. Be that as it may, while I may have misunderstood Senator Regan, having thought about his argument, I am not sure the inclusion of the words "false, misleading, frivolous or vexatious", which are the subject of several amendments in my name, necessarily implies that the Government's definition of the word "opinion" does not encompass suspicion. What is at issue is the question of deceit and the possibility that a person may pretend to communicate an opinion or suspicion in good faith knowing that what he or she is saying is false, misleading, frivolous or vexatious. On reflection, I am not sure Senator Regan is correct although I am engaging with him rather than offering a definitive opinion.
I am delighted Senator Mullen has thoroughly undermined his amendment. He invoked deceit and referred to people misleading and so forth.
We are not discussing Senator Mullen's amendment.
I will offer a rationale for my amendment in due course.
I will be interested to hear the Senator's rationale, if he possesses one, which I doubt. I do not intend that as a personal comment.
I cannot put the matter further than to state that, having discussed this issue with the Parliamentary Counsel, the word "opinion" encompasses actual knowledge or suspicion. I appear to be getting some support for that view from Senator Norris and, to a lesser extent, Senator Mullen.
I may have formed the wrong impression of Senator Bacik's contribution and stand open to correction on the matter. Is she suggesting we provide that someone should be able to recklessly make an opinion or suspicion?
I understood the Senator was making such a suggestion. We need to be very careful because a balance must be struck between the right and duty of a whistleblower to come forward and the need to ensure people do not make accusations which traduce the good name of another individual.
That matter is addressed in the next amendment, which I was rebuked for discussing.
It is for this reason the question of whether the word "opinion" encompasses everything would ultimately be determined by the court on the basis of the level of knowledge of the person concerned.
Senator Regan may correct me if I am wrong but is he suggesting that one cannot have a false or misleading suspicion? I believe suspicions can be false or misleading. For this reason, I do not get the Senator's point. If one starts defining the word "opinion", which I have not seen defined in any other legislation——
The Minister is on dangerous ground.
I hazard a guess that it would be beyond the wit of the Oireachtas to define the word "opinion" in a manner sufficient to allow it to be legally parsed and analysed in a court case. Ultimately, the matter should be left to the courts to decide.
Of its very nature, an opinion is open to being incorrect or false. That must be the case.
The Minister purports to define the word "opinion" as including suspicion while at the same time arguing——
No, I stated that in the opinion of the Parliamentary Counsel the word "opinion" encompasses suspicion.
I remind the Minister that I have the floor. He purports to define the word "opinion". All I am suggesting is that the word should be defined in the legislation. By using only the word "opinion" and not making it clear that it includes suspicion, one places the onus on the whistleblower to be sure of his or her ground before voicing a concern.
Let us consider the history of sexual abuse in our institutions. The Minister referred to someone making accusations that damage the good name of individuals. That is exactly what was said to children and other people who raised concerns and suspicions about these types of activities. It is a fundamental issue.
Well done. That is a very good point.
The onus should not be on the individual with the suspicion because he or she is usually the weaker person who does not have the means to check out the facts but has a genuine concern and suspicion that something wrong is being done. It is for others in authority to check the matter out and it is important that those suspicions be taken up and acted upon. However, such an action is closed off by the way this is framed. The onus is placed on and a criminal sanction framed in the Bill for the whistleblower. Be careful of one's ground before voicing one's suspicion
Senator Regan has put it very well by saying the Minister's wording places the onus on the whistleblower to be sure of his or her ground before making allegations. He pointed out, rightly, that it was the culture of non-disclosure of sexual abuse in institutions that led to so much suffering for so many children for so long. In Ireland more generally there has been a culture of non-disclosure. We must be clear about the context, not only in regard to institutional sexual abuse or medical malpractice cases such as I raised, in planning corruption or malpractice in banks and financial institutions——
Political corruption. In all these areas there has been a culture of non-disclosure and in the past an absence of any sense of protection for whistleblowers. The Minister is right. We must have a balance and the good name of people must be protected. The balance went far too much the other way, however, and against giving any protection to a whistleblower who discloses in good faith. The amendment I propose, with the support of Senator Regan, would clarify for potential whistleblowers that they would be protected even if they did not have the full knowledge they thought they had. I think of all those people who disclosed planning corruption who were very sure they had seen envelopes change hands or that fraud had taken place but could not be absolutely certain because that is the nature of the kind of practice they were disclosing. It is done in secret. We must be careful not to create a perception that the onus on the whistleblower is so heavy that he or she must be absolutely certain before making any disclosure.
I support the Minister's wording in section 8A(1)(a) which states that a whistleblower is not protected if he or she has been reckless as to whether an allegation was false, misleading, frivolous or vexatious. That preserves a balance. I do not agree with Senator Mullen’s amendment which would remove those words.
I thought I had persuaded the Senator.
When I read the wording again, I was sure——
I might persuade both Senators.
To include "suspicion" as well as "opinion" would make it clear that the whistleblower does not have to be absolutely certain before making a disclosure but neither can he or she make misleading or frivolous allegations. I say to the Minister, with respect, that to include "or suspicion" would create a better and more encouraging perception for whistleblowers and potential whistleblowers.
I have been persuaded by Senator Regan's argument, supported by Senator Bacik, and now give my unqualified support to the amendment. A very important series of related points has been raised. First, there has been a shift in the balance of responsibility. Second, some of the persons involved may be young people or people who are not entirely formed as to maturity and who may be easily intimidated. Cases of sexual abuse were mentioned which is a very sensitive area. I am now completely persuaded by this argument.
That is the great value of the kind of debate we have in this House. It is possible, honourably, to alter the balance of one's opinion. I am sure the Minister is capable of doing that too. I suggest to my colleagues who tabled this amendment that it is very important. I congratulate Senator Bacik on tabling it but I suggest she might consider withdrawing it to allow the Minister to consider the matter in greater depth with his advisers and the Senator resubmit it on Report Stage in the hope that the Minister will be persuaded and will refer the debate in this Chamber to the advisers in order that they may study it. We are all united in our wish to promote and sustain the welfare of vulnerable people who make these allegations in good faith.
I can look at this again between now and Report Stage but I reiterate we considered this issue. As far as we on this side of the House are concerned, we do not flip-flop and we listen to arguments.
That is making a swansong.
We do not flip-flop within a short timescale.
It is just a nuance of the argument of Senator Norris.
On the basis that——
If the Minister is giving a guarantee he will look at this matter, he must look at it with an open mind. It is not a flip-flop.
The Minister to continue, without interruptions.
It is a development.
If the Minister could at least form a suspicion, as distinct from an opinion, he might——
Perhaps, upon mature reflection.
It is a sign of intelligence to be able to change one's mind.
The Minister to continue, without interruptions.
Our premise is that "opinion" includes suspicion, actual knowledge or a belief. I would not suggest what is being suggested, namely, that in some way the use of the word "opinion" suggests the person in question must be absolutely certain about the issue he or she is reporting. I do not accept that at all. It is up to the authorities——
It is a grey area.
No, there is a suggestion that in some way——
No one suggested that.
——there is a greater onus on the person because of the use of the word "opinion" rather than "suspicion". That leaves aside the fact that as far as we on this side of the House are concerned, the word "opinion" includes "suspicion". I will look at this again and consider whether it is possible to define "opinion". I do not believe one can but we will ask the Office of the Attorney General. I do not believe that adding the word "suspicion" will advance or broaden this in any way. If one were to include the word "suspicion", one would probably have to look to other similar words to see whether they, too, should be included. Where would one end up? The use of the word "opinion" is recognised in courts by the Judiciary and it is fully understood what it is intended to mean in particular instances. I do not see how this argument can advance. It may very well even suggest there is a differentiation between opinion and suspicion whereas, as far as we are concerned, there is not.
Is amendment No. 1 being pressed?
I would not press it if I thought the Minister would take the debate seriously and would consider the issue between now and Report Stage. He said he——
I take the debate seriously.
I accept the Minister said that but I note from the Order Paper that Report Stage is to take place immediately after Committee Stage.
I did not know that.
I do not suggest the Minister knew that. I am informing the House of it. I do not believe Senator Norris was aware of this either.
The way the business of this House is ordered is absolutely disgraceful. This is another example of the idiocies perpetrated by the Leader.
I did not know that.
I do not suggest the Minister knew it.
It is an absolute shame.
I would be happy to withdraw the amendment if I thought there would be a gap between Committee and Report Stages in order that the Minister might be in a position to consider it. There has been a full debate on the amendment. The matter was put in the other House but the debate there was not so full.