New report outlines roadmap for whistleblower protection reform

This article features Government Accountability Project’s Legal Director, Tom Devine, and was originally published here.

The Australian parliament must reform public and private sector whistleblowing law and establish a whistleblower protection authority, according to a report published on Wednesday by Griffith University, the Human Rights Law Centre and Transparency International Australia.

Protecting Australia’s Whistleblowers: The Federal Roadmap draws on landmark research and synthesises three decades of reviews to outline a comprehensive, 12-step roadmap for better protecting and empowering whistleblowers. It is co-authored by two globally recognised Australian whistleblowing experts, Professor A J Brown and Kieran Pender.

Protecting Australia’s Whistleblowers is being launched at Parliament House on Wednesday at an event to be attended by representatives of the government, the opposition, the Greens and several independents. The launch is being hosted by Dr Helen Haines MP and Senator David Pocock, with remarks from Tom Devine, one of the world’s leading whistleblowing lawyers and legal director of Government Accountability Project (USA).

The report’s recommendations include:

  • Establishment of a whistleblower protection authority to oversee and enforce Australia’s whistleblower protections;

  • Upgraded whistleblower protections for Australian public servants in line with domestic and international best practice, including a positive duty to protect whistleblowers and steps to make it easier for whistleblowers to enforce their rights;

  • Consolidation and harmonisation of whistleblowing laws across the private sector in one new single law covering all non-public sector whistleblowers; and

  • Stronger, simpler protections for whistleblowers who make disclosures to the media and members of parliament.

A J Brown, Professor of Public Policy and Law, Centre for Governance and Public Policy, Griffith University and Board Member, Transparency International Australia, said:

“Whistleblowers play a crucial role in ensuring integrity and accountability in all parts of Australian life each and every day. Australians must be able to speak the truth about wrongdoing without suffering adverse consequences. Unfortunately, the research shows that all too often those who blow the whistle suffer personal and professional detriment.

“Australia once led the world in enacting innovative laws to protect whistleblowers. No longer – we have instead rapidly fallen behind. Complex laws, full of loopholes and lacking practical support, are not fulfilling their purpose of protecting those who speak up.

“Our report sets out all the key areas of reform to get Australia back on the road to international best practice. This is a ‘check list’ not a ‘wish list’ – every reform has been identified as necessary by prior reviews, bipartisan parliamentary committees or independent experts.”

Kieran Pender, Senior Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, said:

“Whistleblowers make Australia a better place. The government’s commitment to initial Public Interest Disclosure Act reform is a positive first step, but as our roadmap shows there is much more to be done. Improving the law and providing practical support for whistleblowers must be top priorities for the government in the months ahead.

“The ongoing prosecutions of tax office whistleblower Richard Boyle and war crimes whistleblower David McBride only underscore the shortcomings in the current laws. Reform must ensure that whistleblowers can safely and lawfully speak up about wrongdoing without facing the risk of criminal prosecution or civil lawsuits.

“The forthcoming establishment of a National Anti-Corruption Commission is a landmark step, but its effectiveness depends on robust protections and support for whistleblowers. The Australian parliament must act to ensure whistleblower protections are comprehensively reformed in the shortest possible time frame.”