12 February 2024

New federal authority needed to protect and support whistleblowers

Former whistleblowers, experts and civil society groups are calling on the Albanese government to establish a Whistleblower Protection Authority as part of Australia’s integrity and regulatory landscape.

The comments coincide with the release of Making Australian Whistleblowing Laws Work: Draft Design Principles for a Whistleblower Protection Authority by Transparency International Australia, the Human Rights Law Centre and Griffith University’s Centre for Governance and Public Policy. The report sets out a detailed proposal for how to fill the biggest missing link in our federal whistleblower protection systems – a dedicated, independent agency or office to enforce these vital protections, and make the systems work.

A group of MPs and Senators will today welcome the release of the draft principles at Parliament House in Canberra.

Clancy Moore, CEO of Transparency International Australia said:
“Whistleblowers are the most important factor in bringing issues of harm into the spotlight. Too often they end up being punished and not protected. A Whistleblower Protection Authority would ensure more support and protection and will help prevent people being targeted.”

Professor A J Brown AM (Griffith University), Chair of TI Australia said:
“A Whistleblower Protection Authority will address stark gaps ensuring federal whistleblowing laws work not only on paper but in practice across both the public and private sectors. This includes enforcing protections, providing support to whistleblowers, facilitating whistleblower disclosures, and making sure no whistleblower can any longer fall through the cracks.”

Sharon Kelsey, State anti-corruption whistleblower said:
“The federal government has a huge opportunity to learn from State experience, and set the new national standard for what effective protection of whistleblowers really looks like. The current rules are confusing and inconsistent, and make it dangerous for whistleblowers who want to speak up. Standing up for what’s right shouldn’t have to come at the great personal cost it currently does. Having an independent Whistleblower Protection Authority will make a real difference to the experience of people who speak up.”

Kieran Pender, Senior Lawyer, Human Rights Law Centre said:
“Whistleblowers make Australia a better place. But right now the laws designed to protect and empower them are not working. A Whistleblower Protection Authority is the missing piece of the puzzle. The time has come for the Albanese Government to establish a Whistleblower Protection Authority.”

Making Australian Whistleblowing Laws Work: Draft Design Principles for a Whistleblower Protection Authority was developed drawing on international equivalents and following consultation with a wide range of experts, including former senior public servants, whistleblowing hotline providers, lawyers, companies and Transparency International Australia’s national whistleblowing advisory group.

The Draft Design Principles have been provided to Government by Transparency International Australia as part of the Attorney-General’s Department current consideration of the next stage of reform to the federal public sector whistleblowing regime.

A Whistleblower Protection Authority was first proposed by a Senate inquiry in 1994, and later endorsed by a bipartisan joint parliamentary committee in 2017. The Australian Labor Party pledged to establish a whistleblower protection authority at the 2019 election, and it has been a feature of several cross-bench bills to establish a federal anti-corruption agency in recent years.