Effective whistleblowing provides an essential service in fostering integrity and accountability while deterring and exposing misconduct, fraud and corruption. A recent analysis of whistleblower protections across G20 countries found Australia's laws to be comprehensive for the public sector, but lacking in the private sector. However, the Moss Review of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013 (PID Act) identified many flaws and areas for reform of the PID Act. Evidence to the inquiry, as well as consideration of existing laws, indicates that whistleblower protections remain largely theoretical with little practical effect in either the public or private sectors.
This is due, in large part, to the near impossibility under current laws of:
• protecting whistleblowers from reprisals (i.e. from retaliatory action);
• holding those responsible for reprisals to account;
• effectively investigating alleged reprisals; and
• whistleblowers being able to seek redress for reprisals.
Another significant issue identified by the committee is the fragmented nature of whistleblower legislation. In particular, significant inconsistencies exist not only between various pieces of Commonwealth public and private sector whistleblower legislation, but also across the various pieces of legislation that apply to different parts of the private sector. The committee has made a number of recommendations to address these issues based on a detailed comparison of three separate Acts.
The committee has recommended separate public and private whistleblower protection legislation. However, the committee recognises that it would be the preference of Labor and Green committee members that a single Act be proceeded with in the first instance.
The committee's work on this inquiry was greatly assisted by a substantial body of academic work over the past two decades on whistleblower protections. The committee has used the best practice guidelines set out in the Breaking the Silence report as a systematic basis for conducting its inquiry and structuring this report. The table overleaf summarises the best practice criteria for whistleblowing legislation and the areas where the committee is recommending reforms.
One of the committee's main recommendations is the establishment of a Whistleblower Protection Authority (to be housed within a single body or an existing body) that can support whistleblowers, assess and prioritise the treatment of whistleblowing allegations, conduct investigations of reprisals, and oversight the implementation of the whistleblower regime for both the public and private sectors.