Australian panel to develop new whistle-blower protections

By on 16/10/2017
Aerial view of Parliament House in Canberra (Images courtes: CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation)).

The Australian government has set up a panel of experts to advise it on the shape of new legislation to protect whistle-blowers across the public and private sectors.

The panel will review and comment on draft legislation for whistle-blower protections that the federal government plans to introduce this year, following a parliamentary inquiry and public consultation on the issue.

“The Turnbull Government is determined to get the whistle-blower settings right,” said Kelly O’Dwyer, minister for revenue and financial services, in a statement announcing the panel’s terms of reference.

“We need a strong legal framework that gives whistle-blowers the confidence to make disclosures; encourages larger companies to develop whistle-blower policies and internal frameworks; provides effective redress to those who suffer reprisals as a result of blowing the whistle; and enables regulators and law enforcement agencies to act quickly and decisively upon whistle-blower reports.”

O’Dwyer said the panel will advise and assist the government on the design of the legal framework to achieve these goals, informed by the public consultation – which began in December 2016 – and a parliamentary joint committee of inquiry report published in September.

The draft legislation will aim to establish whistle-blower protections for people who disclose information about tax avoidance and other breaches of tax laws, and to strengthen existing corporate whistle-blower protections.

The panel will also advise the government on the parliamentary committee’s recommendations for legislative reforms to enhance whistle-blower protections in the public, not-for-profit and private sectors.

It will be led by the treasury and comprise “senior government agency representatives, academics and practitioners with expertise in tax law, corporations law, governance, and whistle-blower protections generally”.

The Turnbull administration pledged to introduce the legislation by December, in a deal struck with independent senators Nick Xenophon and Derryn Hinch. In return, news website The Mandarin reported, the senators agreed to support a bill to set up a new union regulator, the Registered Organisations Commission.

Xenophon and Hinch only backed the bill on the condition that it was amended to include strong protections for whistle-blowers, and that these will later be extended to other sectors. The protections include making many people eligible for protected disclosure status, and introducing legal remedies including compensation, injunctions, job reinstatement, and even bounties.

Kelly O’Dwyer, minister for revenue and financial services, Australian federal government (Image courtesy: Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website www.dfat.gov.au).

The federal government agreed in writing to hold a parliamentary inquiry on whistle-blower protections in the new legislation, with “the objective of implementing the substance and detail of those amendments to achieve an equal or better whistle-blower protection and compensation regime in the corporate and public sectors.”

It also pledged to set up an expert advisory panel to quickly come up with legislation containing  “enhancements to whistle-blower protections” for both the corporate and public sectors, to table the legislation in parliament by December; and to support it in a parliamentary vote by 30 June 2018.

The parliamentary inquiry called in September for a whistle-blower protection authority to be set up, with powers to hold criminal investigations; and for financial rewards to whistle-blowers in cases that result in a penalty for the employer, ABC News reported.

The joint committee’s report said that evidence to the inquiry showed that whistle-blower protections “remain largely theoretical with little practical effect in either the public or private sectors”.

The moves follow a string of high-profile scandals involving Australian corporations and government agencies, in which whistle-blowers were persecuted, demoted or sacked for exposing misconduct or corruption.

The panel’s external members are: Professor AJ Brown, program leader in public integrity and anti-corruption at Griffiths University’s Centre for Governance and Public Policy; Dr David Chaikin, associate professor at the University of Sydney Business School; Michael Croker, head of tax at Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand; and John Nguyen, a partner at Deloitte Australia.

About Liz Heron

Liz Heron is a journalist based in London, who specialises in international news. She worked on daily newspapers for 16 years, reporting extensively on both general news and education. She was Education Editor of the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong and has contributed to a wide range of British media including The Independent, The Guardian and the BBC.

One Comment

  1. Dr Michael Cole

    19/10/2017 at

    If Turnbull and Kelly O’Dwyer were serious about whistleblower protection they would have put someone who is at the coalface and knows first hand about whistleblowing on the panel. Someone from Whistleblowers Australia (http://www.whistleblowers.org.au/) for example. But let’s face it, the opposition loves whistleblowers and the government hates whistleblowers (except when there is big money to be saved by the government; then they love whistleblowers with all their hearts). Anonymous Whistleblowing is the safest form of whistleblowing, and if done correctly (anonymously) is its own protection.

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