Most deserving whistleblowers get no protection new research shows

Professor A J Brown

New research from Griffith University’s Whistling While They Work project has revealed more than half of all public interest whistleblowers who experience serious repercussions for reporting wrongdoing receive no remedies for detriment they suffer despite Australia’s long history of whistleblower protection laws and public sector policies.

Presenting at the 3rd Australian National Whistleblowing Symposium, Professor A J Brown from the Centre for Governance and Public Policy said the new analysis of more than 1300 whistleblowing cases in 33 organisations – 29 of them public sector – highlights “just how little traction current whistleblowing laws have had in facilitating remedies for those most in need after speaking up.”

He said despite their managers and governance staff assessing them as being correct in their disclosure and deserving of organisational support, over half of public interest whistleblowers who experienced serious repercussions received no remedy at all.

Co-author Jane Olsen, a Griffith University doctoral scholar and partner investigator from the NSW Ombudsman’s office, said just 6% of the whistleblowers ever received any actual compensation, including only 8% of those who lost their job, and only 4% of those assessed by their own superiors as having experienced serious harassment, intimidation or harm.

“Fortunately, we still know that not all whistleblowers suffer — and many organisations are good at acting on whistleblower reports — but if whistleblowing regimes cannot deliver justice for the many who do suffer serious stress, harassment or worse, then no-one should expect these laws and policies to be trusted,” Ms Olsen said.

Professor Brown said the findings were “a wake-up call for the extent and urgency of reform needed to legal remedies for whistleblowers, as well as consequences for employers who fail to fulfil the promises of protection that employees and the community rightly expect.”

The symposium, co-hosted by the Human Rights Law Centre, also includes:

“As members of the Standards Australia and ISO Expert Group, we hope and trust the new international standard will help all Australian organisations, and others around the world, turn these kinds of results around,” Professor Brown and Ms Olsen said.

The Video Guide also features Professor Wim Vandekerckhove of Greenwich University and the British Standards Institute, who led the international expert group; and Clare Molan, Whistleblower Program Lead at ANZ, who also contributed to the group.