Whistleblowing

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Whistleblowers are people who speak out about a scandal, danger, malpractice, or corruption.

A strict definition is:

Whistleblowing is an act of dissent (loosely speaking). It is an open disclosure about significant wrongdoing made by a concerned citizen totally or predominantly motivated by notions of public interest, who has perceived the wrongdoing in a particular role and initiates the disclosure of her or his own free will, to a person or agency capable of investigating the complaint and facilitating the correction of wrongdoing.

Whistleblowers are often subject to suppression, but not always.

Some individuals are subject to suppression even though they are not whistleblowers. For example, individuals quietly adhering to unorthodox ideas may be subject to suppression.

Several Australian governments have introduced or are considering legislation to protect whistleblowers from reprisals.

This sounds like an excellent idea, but it has severe limitations.

The legislation can only cover certain types of individuals, typically public servants, and particular types of dissent. But many types of problems are hard to legislate against, such as subtle harassment campaigns and the blocking of appointments to higher positions.

 

Victorian Public Interest Disclosures Act 2012

The purposes on the Public Interest Disclosures Act are:

  • to encourage and facilitate disclosures of—
    • improper conduct by public officers, public bodies and other persons; and
    • detrimental action taken in reprisal for a person making a disclosure under this
  • to provide protection for—
    • persons who make those disclosures;
    • persons who may suffer detrimental action in reprisal for those disclosures;
  • to ensure that those disclosures are properly assessed and, where necessary, investigated;
  • to provide for the confidentiality of the content of those disclosures and the identity of persons who make those disclosures.

The Act provides some protection to whistleblowers who make disclosures in accordance with the Act, and establishes a system for investigations and action to be taken.

See this explainer made by the Victorian Equal Opportunity Commission.

 

Support and information

This 2022 article by HRLC about Richard Boyle and David McBride 

The website: Brian Martin’s Suppression of Dissent, is a good explainer or different forms or whistleblowing and dissent.

For commentary on whistleblower legislation follow the links below:

William De Maria in his 2002 paper Common law – common mistakes analyses strengths and weaknesses of whistleblower laws from five countries.

In another 2002 paper, The Victorian Whistleblower Protection Act: patting the paws of corruption?, he analyses the Victorian government’s law.

Stuart Dawson discusses whistleblower legislation and related issues in his paper Whistleblowing: a broad definition and some issues for Australia, published in 2000.

The Whistleblowers Handbook: How to be an effective resister (PDF) by Brian Martin.

Whistleblowers Australia is an association for those who have exposed corruption or any form of malpractice, especially if they were then hindered or abused, and for those who are thinking of exposing it, or who wish to support those who are doing so.

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