A big win for whistleblowers in the private sector

In February this year, the Federal Parliament passed the Treasury Laws Amendment (Enhancing Whistleblower Protections) Bill 2019. This Whistleblower Bill amends the Corporations Act 2001, the Taxation Administration Act 1953, the Banking Act 1959 and the Insurance Act 1973 to provide a stronger whistleblower protection regime.

 

These reforms will come into effect in July and companies have until January 2020 to set up their whistleblower protection policies.

 

‘This is a great step forward’ wrote TIA CEO Serena Lillywhite in a joint piece with Sustainalytics, ‘it will likely help tackle corruption and misconduct, and improve responsible business conduct across the board, inspiring a better culture of integrity among Australian companies.’

 

As TIA board member and anti-corruption expert A J Brown wrote in The Mandarin ‘reportable wrongdoing has been massively expanded and clarified. Not only employees, but contractors, volunteers and others are covered.  Civil remedies and confidentiality protections have been created, widened or made more accessible.’

 

A J explained in Voices for Transparencythese reforms are world-leading for two reasons:

 

  1. People employed by any public and large proprietary companies (and their spouses and dependents) are protected from any reprisals from the very start.

 

‘Typically, action to protect whistleblowers is only taken after retribution has started. By the time compensation rights are triggered, the protections they offer are usually too little, too late. Now, all public and large proprietary companies are required to spell out how they will “support and protect” those who speak up before they begin to experience any detrimental effects.’

 

‘This is a crucial change in establishing better culture for these companies,’ former TIA Chair Fiona McLeod told ABC Radio National Breakfast, ‘and sending the message to their employees that they are intending to do the right thing and [establishing] how they will be protected when they step forward.’

 

  1. A company can now be held liable if it fails to prevent detrimental acts – by having no support plans in place, or neglecting to implement them, for example.

“Granting whistleblowers the right to sue for such a failure is a world first.”

 

Now, ‘our public sector laws need to catch up’, A J told ABC Radio National Late Night Live.

 

‘The devil is always in the implementation detail,’ Serena told the Canberra Times, ‘though and an independent whistleblower protection authority would provide good oversight over that.’