It’s time whistleblowers had better protection: A.J. Brown writes for The Conversation

Griffith University Professor of Public Policy & Law, Centre for Governance & Public Policy, A.J. Brown says the case for law reform to properly protect public-interest whistleblowers has never been so stark.

Professor AJ Brown

In a new article for The Conversation he details the need for better whistleblower protections and writes that, “fundamental flaws in our (federal) laws are embarrassing everyone from the AFP to the government itself, triggering criminal investigations and charges against whistleblowers, irrespective of the public interest.”

“These flaws mean fraud, corruption or criminal behaviour in any activity vaguely touched by intelligence agency functions cannot be revealed to the public, even when the same disclosure about any other agency would be protected.”

New research released last week by Professor Brown reinforced just how important whistleblower protection is to public integrity and regulatory systems, without which most whistleblowers won’t go public.

The following is an extract from his article for The Conversation:

“Our Clean As A Whistle study reports on whistleblowing policies in 699 public and private sector organisations, and the experience of 17,778 employees in 46 of them. This includes 5,055 who raised concerns about wrongdoing, internally and outside their organisation.

The study confirms just how rare public whistleblowing is, even though whistleblowing within organisations is the lifeblood of integrity. In fact, whistleblowing is ranked as the single most important way wrongdoing is brought to light, leading to action or reform more than 60% of the time.

In our study, 98% of whistleblowers raised their concerns internally. Only 2% went outside their organisations in the first instance. Even when whistleblowers feel forced to go outside, it is rarely directly to the media. In fact,

  • only 16% of reporters ever went to an external regulatory body
  • of the 20% of reporters who ever went public, 19% went to a union, professional association or industry body. Only 1% of whistleblowers ever went directly to a journalist, media organisation or public website.

These data show there’s hardly a crisis of leaking and external disclosure of information in Australian institutions.

As our research highlights, Australia’s whistleblowing laws need many reforms to make protections real — including a properly resourced whistleblower protection authority. But reform of public disclosure rules is especially critical.”

Professor Brown admits that there have been improvements to laws protecting whistleblowers in the private sector, but said they don’t go far enough.

He writes that, “federal law has been crippled by blanket prohibitions on certain types of information, especially anything connected with national security or “intelligence”, since inception in 2013.”

He also believes that, “unless we extend the protections applying to public whistleblowing, we cannot expect the public to take the rest of our whistleblowing regimes seriously.”

“And the effect will be chilling on all reporting of wrongdoing on which public integrity daily depends.”

Read more on this in The Conversation.