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A day of action in Parliament for whistleblower protections

Governance Institute’s Parliamentary Friends of Governance was honoured to host a special event at Parliament House in Canberra this month, bringing together esteemed researchers and advocates to discuss the importance of whistleblowing, and whistleblower protections.

By Charles Dane, Policy and Government Relations Advisor, Governance Institute

As part of a partnership with Transparency International Australia (TIA), Governance Institute’s Friends of Governance in depth briefing heard from TIA Chair Professor AJ Brown on the draft design principles for a Whistleblower Protection Authority, which had been launched earlier in the day.

MPs including Deborah O’Neill, Helen Haines, Andrew Wilkie, Zali Steggall and Friends Group co-chairs Bridget Archer and Zoe Daniel were among a packed parliamentary committee room to hear from Professor Brown and prominent whistleblowers Sharon Kelsey, Frank O’Toole, and Troy Stolz.

Governance Institute CEO Megan Motto told the audience of the Institute’s commitment to improve the protections for those who call out wrongdoing.

“We believe that there should be a consistent whistleblower protection regime for both the private and public sectors, so the duplicative or different rules do not deter whistleblowers or confuse employers about whether or how protections apply,” she said.

“Harmonising the regimes would eliminate the current gaps in protection coverage – for example, for private sector employees including consultants who ‘blow the whistle’ on public sector wrongdoing –  so no-one is in doubt which protections apply to them.”

Here’s a summary of the principles based on an article by A.J Brown in The Conversation.

  1. The agency must actually protect whistleblowers

The first priority is to fill the gaps in what institutions currently do to implement whistleblower protections, given these types of laws have already been around for years.

Several federal bodies have the task of fighting wrongdoing and ensuring integrity, including the new National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC). Yet, drawing on international research, we found when it comes to the crunch, out of 15 key official functions required to make whistleblowing laws work, only four of those were currently fully provided for. This leaves substantial or total gaps for the remaining 11.

  1. Capture the financial benefits of whistleblowing

What does effective protection look like? Research found that even in deserving cases, more than half (56%) of public-interest whistleblowers are suffering serious direct or indirect repercussions. In turn, only about half (49%) of these are receiving any remedies to address the impacts – with less than 6% receiving any compensation.

This is despite the huge benefits whistleblowers bring to government and taxpayers by uncovering wrongdoing, including financial benefits through penalties imposed, court settlements or money saved.

A whistleblowing agency needs full resources to support whistleblowers in compensation claims, provide legal assistance, and mediate with agencies to secure remedies.

  1. Protect whistleblowers across all sectors

Whistleblowers don’t just exist in the public sector. And even when it comes to revealing public sector wrongdoing, many whistleblowers are located in private companies that deliver government contracts. They can also be consultants, or witness wrongdoing involving other companies, even if not their own, and can still face detriment.

This is why a major 2017 parliamentary inquiry recommended consistent whistleblower protections across the sectors under federal laws, including a “one stop shop Whistleblower Protection Authority”.

With most federal whistleblowing laws up for review, it’s the perfect time to move to a simpler approach, with an authority able to ensure public interest whistleblowers are protected irrespective of where they come from.

  1. Ensure agencies respond properly to whistleblowers

We can only be sure that whistleblowers are being protected – and their disclosures dealt with – if they are on the radar of their own organisation, with an independent agency there to make sure that’s the case.

Under-reporting is a problem everywhere. But every year, NSW government agencies identify four times as many whistleblowing disclosures as the federal government (on a pro rata basis), while the Queensland government reports seven times as many. This confirms the federal regime is broken.

A Whistleblower Protection Authority will close these gaps by checking how well agencies are recognising disclosures and being an independent doorway where whistleblowers can go confidentially for guidance and support.

  1. An independent, standalone body

A Whistleblower Protection Authority could be located in many parts of the system, but the crucial thing is for whistleblower protection to be recognised as a standalone job with an independent statutory commissioner supported by adequate resources and staff, who cannot be diverted onto other jobs.

Independence is crucial, so the authority can act impartially to conciliate disputes between whistleblowers and organisations, investigate when whistleblowers allege detriment for raising their concerns, and act as a powerful circuit breaker against reprisals.


2024 is a year full of opportunity for whistleblower protection reform. The government is currently working its way through public submissions to a review of the Public Interest Disclosure Act (Find our submission here) and we expect a significant review of the Corporations Act.

Kieran Pender from the Human Rights Law Centre perfectly summed up the opportunity facing Attorney General Mark Dreyfus:

“In a recent essay for The Monthly, Dreyfus described his passion for “building strong public institutions”. He observed, of the importance of accountability and integrity, that these democratic values are not only “ends in themselves”, and ways to prevent tragedies like Robodebt, but that they also “lead to better government.”

By establishing a whistleblowing body, Dreyfus can be true to his word and leave a fitting legacy. By helping whistleblowers speak up, a whistleblower protection authority would be good for accountability and integrity and ensure better government for all Australians.”

Implementing a stronger, clearer, and harmonised whistleblower protection regime consistent with these principles is an opportunity for Australia. We can demonstrate that our protection regime is world leading, a beacon for both the corporate and public sectors when it comes to how serious we take protecting those who shine a light on unethical behaviour.

I hope the government sees that there can be no real barrier to these commonsense reforms. I am not naïve to the perils of legislative priorities of a first term government, but given our chequered history of ‘Robodebt’ the recent Home Affairs controversies, and the PWC scandal, how long can we sustain a system where unnecessarily complicated legal hurdles depress the incentives and access to the avenues of blowing the whistle?

2024-25 Pre-budget submission

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