Sometimes, strange things happen in politics. Usually it is only in opposition that political parties champion meaningful reforms aimed at increased government openness, integrity and accountability. In the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Assembly yesterday, the priority given by the Gallagher government to new public interest disclosure or ''whistleblowing'' legislation, with the support of the ACT Greens, stands in sharp contrast.
As a result, ACT public servants and contractors will have new tailor-made rules aimed at ensuring they can speak up about wrongdoing or maladministration in government - within government, and if necessary, by going to the media.
Government is a hard business. Quite rightly, every government has to take responsibility for the things that can go wrong under its watch, even when those things are the results of budget pressures, economic change, ever-increasing community expectations and forces beyond their control.
But at the end of the day, the best and fastest way for wrongdoing and serious problems to be get identified early, is if the people ''in the know'' - the hard-working public servants inside organisations - are able to speak up.
The Gallagher government's Public Interest Disclosure Act replaces outdated 1994 legislation. It is historic legislation, improving on recent reforms in Queensland and NSW, and providing the country's clearest regime for ensuring public agencies listen to their people, take action to protect them, and ''ensure just outcomes … including by preventing and remedying the effect of detrimental action''.
It also extends the circumstances where, if systems are not in place to deal with wrongdoing raised via official channels, insiders can go to the media.
So far, in NSW and Queensland, the newer legislation covers whistleblowers who go to the media as a last resort. This, too, is included in the ACT bill, with some helpful new safeguards and thresholds to guide whistleblowers and agencies on when this is acceptable.
But as well, the ACT act is the first to make explicit what many Australians expect - that when it comes to serious public interest matters, if there is really no safe official channel available, we would prefer that a whistleblower go public than stay silent.
The act provides that if a public servant can't reasonably use any official channels without ''significant risk'' of reprisal, they will still be protected if they go straight to the media.
Very few public servants, and no responsible ones, are itching to get themselves into the news with allegations of wrongdoing. Or scurrying around trying to leak information about things they shouldn't have to.
And this legislation provides no encouragement to the few who might have instincts to publicly blurt every whinge, problem or grievance.
Instead, it sets up a new, simpler balance on when media disclosures are justified - forcing agencies and government to be more receptive to its own people in the first place, if they are to avoid this happening.
Research led by Griffith University, funded by the Australian Research Council and supported by seven governments including the ACT, has helped identify how such rules can be best designed.
The big question for Canberra residents - especially if you are a federal public servant - is when the Commonwealth government is finally going to follow.
Whistleblower protection for federal public servants was first recommended by a Senate Select Committee in 1994.
In 2007, the Rudd government committed itself to best practice whistleblowing legislation.
In early 2009, a House of Representatives committee inquiry chaired by Mark Dreyfus QC - now federal cabinet secretary - set out a blueprint for comprehensive federal legislation. Those recommendations received bipartisan support. In March 2010, the government committed to implement the scheme.
But since then, despite the federal government's agreements to move on this with independent MPs Andrew Wilkie, Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor in September 2010, nothing has actually happened.
Every day, it becomes more obvious why effective federal whistleblowing rules are needed. In just the last week, the public has heard about a senior executive of Note Printing Australia being effectively ''sat on'' when he pointed out that the Commonwealth-owned company was engaging in illegal foreign bribery. We have also been told about aged care inspectors being told to ''look the other way'' when trying to fulfil their duties for the federal Department of Health and Ageing.
The newer legislation, especially the ACT act, can help provide solutions to the federal government on how to catch up with other governments, and put in place stronger systems for acting on such information. It is also not enough just for authorities to listen - they have to protect and support those who speak up.
A key issue for the ACT remains more effective, low-cost avenues for ensuring that mistreated whistleblowers are properly compensated, and able to get on with their lives and careers - but this is also something only the Commonwealth can help solve, under the Fair Work Act.
After two years of inaction, the federal government has everything it needs to forge the solutions needed to deliver on its commitments.
It will be another historic day - and another government with rare historic vision - which finally sees federal whistleblower protection rules come to pass.
A.J. Brown is professor of public law at Griffith University, and a director of Transparency International Australia.