Senate urged to delay recommendations until whistleblowing research released

Governance Institute is urging the Senate Inquiry into Scrutiny of Financial Advice not to make any recommendations on whistleblowing systems until the results of Australia’s largest whistleblowing research project are released.

Commenting on the preliminary results of Whistling While They Work 2, released today by Griffith University and partners, Governance Institute chief executive Steven Burrell said: “Waiting for the results of this substantial body of work would enable the inquiry to make recommendations based on hard evidence rather than hearsay.”

A snapshot of whistleblowing processes and procedures across 702 public sector, business and not-for-profit organisations from Australia and New Zealand, the research is the largest cross-section of organisations to participate in a single survey. It is also the first research to systematically compare self-reported evidence on the state of whistleblowing processes across these different sectors.

The preliminary findings clearly demonstrate that while there is widespread concern that there is not sufficient protection for whistleblowers, nobody knows what is or is not working in any whistleblowing process or system, with key gaps including:

  • 23% of organisations, and up to 36% of not-for-profit organisations, reported having no system for recording and tracking wrongdoing concerns
  • 23%, and up to 34% of not-for-profit organisations, did not currently have any strategy, program or process for delivering support and protection to staff who raise concerns
  • 38%, including 49% of businesses and 51% of not-for-profit organisations, indicated they did not assess the risks of detrimental impacts that staff might experience from raising wrongdoing concerns, either at all or until problems began to arise
  • 46%, and as low as 32% of not-for-profit organisations, provide access to a management-designated support person inside the organisation as part of their response to staff who raise wrongdoing concerns; and
  • only 16% have any mechanisms for ensuring adequate compensation or restitution if staff experience reprisals or other detrimental impacts after raising wrongdoing concerns, including 17% of public and business entities and 13% of not-for-profits.

“The results also reinforce the problem that the whistleblower provisions in the Corporations Act are very narrowly focused and require whistleblowers to have a detailed understanding of whether the misconduct they are reporting is covered by corporate law, when it could relate to competition, tax, workplace health and safety, bribery or corruption or industrial relations, all of which are covered by different legislation and regulators” Mr Burrell said.

“A stand-alone Act that covers disclosure of any sort of misconduct — not just financial misconduct — and that provides protection regardless of which regulator the whistleblower discloses to is what we need and what we will recommend to the Senate inquiry once it reconvenes. Australia should follow the lead of the US and UK, where there are general provisions for allegations of misconduct made in good faith and which do not attract retribution. This is a much better option than one which mandates the same provision in multiple pieces of legislation.

“But in terms of whistleblowing systems, there is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the Senate Inquiry to make evidence-based recommendations if the final results of the research are incorporated in its recommendations. That will genuinely set the framework for a robust and independent whistleblowing process that makes employees feel comfortable about fearlessly reporting wrongdoing,” Mr Burrell concluded. “That may mean waiting a bit longer than anticipated, but it is worth getting this right.”

For further information contact Viv Hardy on 02 9283 4113 or 0411 208 951 or Steven Burrell on (02) 9223 5744 or 0407 708 485.

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MR/2016/18

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