President’s commentary — Whistleblower policies are like Goldilocks’s porridge – they need to be just right

Whistleblowers would have to be the word of the month — or at least you could be forgiven for thinking so if you’ve opened a newspaper in the last few weeks. The fact that almost every major print media outlet in the country took the unprecedented step of censoring its own front page in late October speaks to the importance of transparency within our society.

While the media may be more concerned with public sector whistleblowing, it is arguable that the profile of the issue is in some part derived from the fact that whistleblower protections in the private sector are more advanced than for their counterparts in the public sector, thanks to recent legislative changes. Governance Institute can be proud of the fact that we played no small part in shaping these changes, having made submissions on the draft legislation and making a further submission on ASIC’s consultation paper on its guidance for whistleblower policy in September. The paper made a number of recommendations, which were specifically aimed at ensuring that the guidance was workable.

Perhaps most importantly, our recommendations clearly stated that ASIC’s approach was overly prescriptive, while also failing to distinguish between which aspects of the guidance were legal requirements, as opposed to best practice. In addition, we also strongly communicated the difficulty of implementing the current guidance, due to its length and complexity — particularly for entities in the not-for-profit and charitable sectors. In short, while we commended ASIC for their development of the guidance, we also clearly communicated our concerns on its practical shortcomings.

I think we can all be proud of the concrete action our organisation has taken on this critical issue, and our strong history in this area. In particular, we can point to our support of the whistleblower research work undertaken by Griffith University. I commend their publication to those of our members involved in implementing whistleblower policies in their organisations Five step guide to better whistleblowing policy and practice in business and government.

While there will always be those within organisations who dismiss issues like whistleblowing as a distraction from a company’s financial responsibilities, as governance professionals, we can point to a growing list of examples to the contrary in the media.

We can be certain that the coming weeks and months will bring more discussion on the need for transparency and accountability, within both the corporate and public sectors. As governance professionals we are not just discussing these values and changes — we have to enact them. While sometimes this road may seem to be an arduous one, we must also take time to reflect on our part in delivering improvements such as this one — after all, every step forward is a step towards improving the quality of governance and corporate culture across our nation.

Material published in Governance Directions is copyright and may not be reproduced without permission.

Click the link for a full list of Governance Institute Board and State Council members