Clean as a whistle: a five step guide to better whistleblowing policy and practice in business and government

Whistling While They Work 2 – key findings and actions
Whistle blowing Public sector Public service Public sector information Australia

Whistleblowing processes – or systems for encouraging and protecting staff who speak up about wrongdoing – are vital to achieving integrity, good governance and freedom from corruption in institutions across the world.

Increasingly the importance of good whistleblowing processes is being recognised not only in new laws and rules, but stronger organisational systems and programs, informed by a new vision of the benefits and responsibilities that accompany the raising of wrongdoing concerns.

Stronger private sector whistleblowing requirements under Australia’s Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) are coinciding with new reform proposals for the public sector, progress towards law reform in New Zealand, and the European Union’s historic Directive requiring new or improved laws from all member states. The International Standards Organisation (ISO) is developing the world’s first whistleblowing management system standard.

These reforms reflect a common vision of the importance of:

  • ‘Three tiered’ legislative frameworks which recognise the roles of internal, regulatory and public whistleblowing in modern society;
  • Requirements for organisations to have quality whistleblowing programs; and
  • Striving to prevent harm to organisation members who speak up about wrongdoing, and ensure institutions act positively on their concerns – not trying to remedy harm or correct organisational failures after the event.

In support of this effort, this guide presents key findings and actions from the Australian Research Council project Whistling While They Work 2: Improving managerial responses to whistleblowing in public and private sector organisations – the world’s first large-scale research into management of whistleblowing in business and government.

Presenting data on whistleblowing policies in 699 organisations and experiences of 17,778 individuals in 46 public and private bodies, the research pinpoints key actions for successful implementation of whistleblowing at organisational and whole-of-government levels.

As set out in Figure 1, the guide sets out five main steps for better policy and practice.

The first three steps focus on lessons for the design and implementation of whistleblowing programs by organisations – especially with respect to the critical challenges of making the right first responses to disclosures, creating a supportive environment for whistleblowing, and ensuring clear and effective roles and responsibilities.

However, organisational whistleblowing programs will only be as good as the regulatory frameworks that support them. Steps four and five focus on key actions for policymakers, to achieve best practice regulatory arrangements including ensuring that public disclosure rights and media freedom continue to play their vital role in integrity and good governance.

This guide works as a companion to new regulatory requirements, formal guidance and standards for whistleblowing policies and programs. The findings and key actions will help everyone with a commitment to integrity – organisations and policymakers alike – act to ensure the positive role of whistleblowing is fully realised, for all our benefits.

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