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Proposed bill a good first-step towards whistleblower protection

Governance Institute has commended the Government for the improvements to whistleblower protections included in the bill currently before parliament.

In particular Governance Institute welcomed:

  • the expansion of the definition of eligible whistleblowers
  • replacing the ‘good faith’ requirement with a more appropriate test of ‘reasonable grounds to suspect’
  • broadening the classes of wrongdoing to which the whistleblower protection provisions apply
  • allowing a whistleblower to seek compensation for damage caused irrespective of criminal victimisation
  • allowing for anonymous disclosure, and
  • including new provisions to protect a whistleblower’s identity.

‘We support the expansion of the compensations framework and note that the bill does not provide for any reward scheme. We do not support bounty or reward schemes for corporate whistleblowers,’ said Governance Institute chief executive Steven Burrell.

‘Whistleblowing has a critical role to play in identifying, stopping and preventing misconduct in the corporate sector,’ said Mr Burrell.

‘However, whistleblower protection should be just one, albeit vitally important, aspect of companies’ overall programs to ensure compliance with regulations and detect and prevent misconduct.

Our members’ experience is that whistleblowing usually occurs when other avenues that should already exist within corporations to deal with misconduct have been exhausted, failed or do not exist’ he added.

The success or failure of a whistleblower program depends on the culture of the relevant organisation and those who handle the whistleblower disclosure.

‘Culture cannot be legislated. Whistleblower protections are a step in the right direction but that legislation will be most effective where organisations, executives and boards develop and support cultures which encourage employees to speak up and have programs and systems which deal with disclosures in a timely, transparent and appropriate manner,’ Mr Burrell said.

Governance Institute’s submission notes that the bill does not address a number of the issues identified by the Parliamentary Joint Committee inquiry into whistleblowing. The recommendation for one scheme covering the private sector and a lead agency such as an Office of the Whistleblower has been ignored.

‘We support a stand-alone, general whistleblower protection regime in its own Act, rather than an approach which inserts the same provisions in multiple pieces of legislation, and believe a separate ombudsman or Office of Whistleblowing would be the most effective advocate for whistleblowers. We hope these recommendations will be adopted in a subsequent tranche of legislation.

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