“The key arguments for establishing effective whistleblower protections are essentially based on a view put by numerous submitters and witnesses that whistleblowing was critical in fostering a culture of transparency, accountability, and integrity.” Last month, the Australian Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services delivered its Whistleblower Protections report. The report is a dissection of the protections offered presently to whistleblowers in Australia, leading to the formulation of fourteen best practice criteria for protection of whistleblowing in Australia.
Best practice criteria for whistleblowing in Australia
In this article, we highlight two of the recommended best practice criteria, because we believe that without these specific principles in place, effective whistleblowing in Australia is not possible at all.
One of the recommendations is the advice to broaden the definition of reportable wrongdoing to a breach of any commonwealth, state or territory law. Too narrow definitions of disclosable conduct obstruct effective identification of misconduct and protection of whistleblowers. It is interesting to see that the committee expresses its concern whether the recommended broadened definition of disclosable conduct is broad enough to cover all situations in which whistleblowing in Australia is desirable.
Anonymity of whistleblowers
Not surprisingly, the discussion on whether whistleblowing in Australia should be anonymous or not, is part of the committee analysis. One of the apprehensions is that anonymous disclosures can potentially limit the ability of parties who receive disclosures to investigate the matter thoroughly as they are unable to consult the discloser. The committee however states that anonymous whistleblowing received much stronger support, including from law enforcement agencies and regulators. Therefore, the committee recommends to allow for anonymous disclosures across the public and private sectors. Private sector whistleblowing legislation (including legislation covering corporations and registered organisations) should explicitly allow, and provide protections for, anonymous disclosures consistent with public sector legislation.
Success factors for a trustworthy whistleblowing system
We fully concur with the belief that the scope of whistleblowing should be wide and that whistleblowers should be able to remain anonymous. In fact, in our recent customer study, we draw almost identical conclusions when summarising what in our view are the key factors for an efficient whistleblowing system.
1) Anonymous reporting is possible and explained to the potential whistleblower in detail. Data security and data privacy is the number one issue.
2) The purpose of whistleblowing, to ensure that the ethical principles in the Code of Conduct are respected, is communicated by the board and management.
3) A well thought-through investigation process is put in place, and communicated.
For the full report, please follow this link
For more information on whistleblowing in Australia, please contact Jan Stappers, Legal Counsel at WhistleB [email protected]