24 February 2014: Australian whistleblowing reforms highlight need for more action

Transparency International Australia has welcomed new guidelines from the Australian Securities & Investments Commission (ASIC) on how it will better manage reports from corporate whistleblowers, but says the guidelines reinforce the need for Australia to lead the way with serious law reform in the fight against corporate corruption.

The new ASIC guidelines, released last week, come as the Australian co-chaired G20 Anti Corruption Working Group meetings in Sydney later this week, to consider what G20 nations should be doing to eliminate corruption as a risk to international financial stability, growth and development.

‘Whistleblower protection is one of the vital issues for ongoing action, if G20 countries are to remain serious about effective international financial and economic coordination,’ according to Dr A J Brown, a Transparency International Australia director, and one of four Transparency International and other anti-corruption experts who will attend a roundtable with the G20 Working Group this week.

‘With many G20 countries falling behind in their commitments to have effective whistleblower protection in place by the end of this year, Australia’s situation is an important lesson.’

‘The new ASIC guidelines effectively confirm the many areas where ASIC itself is powerless under the law to help ensure that corporate whistleblowing is properly protected, and financial and corporate wrongdoing is disclosed and rooted out, wherever it occurs,’ Dr Brown said.

‘Not only is it highly unclear what types of corporate wrongdoing are covered by the existing protections, but the roles of other regulators are unclear; the legal protections are largely symbolic and out of date; there are no obligations on companies or employers to set up safe whistleblowing channels; there are no rules to protect whistleblowers who are forced to go public; and all protection is subject to a highly dubious “good faith” test.’

The weakness of Australia’s Corporations Act whistleblowing provisions is currently under review by a Senate Economics Committee inquiry into the performance of ASIC, as well as being highlighted in Transparency International’s briefing to the G20 Working Group.

‘The Australian Parliament passed innovative new whistleblower protection legislation for most of the federal public sector, under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013 — only further highlighting the need to now get this right for the private and community sector’.

‘As president of the G20 Group of Nations in 2014, Australia is uniquely placed to improve its performance on this issue, and show the way for other nations,’ Dr Brown said.

 

CONTACTS: Dr A J Brown – Professor of Public Policy & Law, Griffith University – 0414 782 331:                       Michael Ahrens- Executive Director, Transparency International Australia- 0411 360 209