Parliament should intervene to protect whistleblower’s communications to MP, committee says

NSW clubs lobby has applied to federal court to access correspondence between former employee Troy Stolz and Andrew Wilkie

Parliament should intervene in a federal court case launched by the NSW clubs lobby against a whistleblower to protect the man’s communications with independent MP Andrew Wilkie, the powerful privileges committee has said.

In recent months, ClubsNSW has sought orders in the federal court in an attempt to obtain correspondence between Troy Stolz, one of its former employees, and Wilkie, which included documents which Wilkie told parliament revealed the sector’s widespread failure to comply with money laundering laws.

The federal court ruled in June that the correspondence should be handed to ClubsNSW, prompting Wilkie to refer the matter to the privileges committee. Stolz initially raised privilege in an attempt to fight the order but abandoned the argument later in proceedings.

Communications between constituents and MPs can be protected by parliamentary privilege, which restricts how such documents can be used in court.

On Tuesday, the committee recommended parliament intervene in the case. It found some of the documents that are to be given to ClubsNSW are protected by parliamentary privilege.

“The committee is satisfied that parliamentary privilege is likely to attach to some of the documents in question and that the legal action raises issues such that the house should intervene in the court proceedings,” deputy chair Labor MP Patrick Gorman said on Tuesday.

“Mr Speaker, as our report states, the committee considers that the most appropriate course of action is for the Speaker, as the representative of the house, to take steps to ensure the house’s interests are represented before the courts.”

The house will make a decision on whether to intervene on Wednesday. The committee’s intervention would not necessarily prevent the court from using the documents, but would limit how they could be used.

ClubsNSW is suing Stolz in the federal court for breaching its confidence by speaking to the media and Wilkie about the sector’s alleged failure to comply with money laundering laws.

Wilkie last year relied on a 2019 report provided by Stolz to tell parliament that up to 95% of clubs in NSW were “operating illegally” when it came to compliance with anti-money laundering rules.”

Wilkie said he was delighted with the committee’s ruling, saying it “brings clarity to the right of people to deal confidentially with members of parliament”.

“It’s a huge win for whistle-blowers, in particular, who can now confidently bring their revelations to the attention of parliamentarians,” he said in a statement.

“The ruling by the Committee is also a significant precedent for all Australian parliaments, and indeed Commonwealth parliaments around the world.”

Human Rights Law Centre senior lawyer Kieran Pender said the committee’s findings were an “important win for whistleblowers”.

“It confirms the ability of Australians to speak up about wrongdoing to their elected representatives, in appropriate circumstances, safe in the knowledge that their communication is protected by parliamentary privilege,” he said. “Australia is a better place when whistleblowers speak up.”

Stolz was also crucial to an ABC report alleging money laundering through poker machines was widespread in pubs and clubs.

The whistleblower has since been locked in a series of battles with his former employer.

Stolz says the proceedings have ruined him financially and has attempted to crowdfund his legal costs.

ClubsNSW has sought to prevent Stolz from speaking to journalists and force him to remove a crowdfunding page on website GoFundMe, which it says makes inaccurate claims about the case.

Wilkie has previously warned that he was deeply concerned at the consequences of forcing Stolz to hand over the records.

“If everyday Australians cannot speak with parliamentarians, safe in the knowledge that their communication and correspondence are protected by parliamentary privilege, many will choose not to speak at all,” he said.

The federal court did not make any finding about whether parliamentary privilege applied. Stolz initially raised privilege in an attempt to fight the order but abandoned the argument later in proceedings.


Christopher Knaus

The GuardianTramp