Call to protect whistleblowers with stronger laws

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South Australia’s whistleblowing legislation is ineffective – Flinders academic Professor Andrew Goldsmith says we know that because, after 20 years, it seems very few people have used it.

Professor Goldsmith is calling for State law-makers to provide better protection for whistleblowers and also to find ways to encourage public servants to denounce corruption or misconduct.

Professor Goldsmith, Director of the Centre for Crime Policy and Research at Flinders, will be speaking at a forum this evening that will discuss the State’s whistleblower legislation, which is currently under review by the SA Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).

Also speaking will be researcher on Australian whistleblowing, Professor AJ Brown of Griffith University, and Ms Michelle Sutcliffe, Senior Legal Officer of the ICAC.

Professor Goldsmith said that whistleblowing – officially reporting conduct that is at odds with the aims of an organisation – is an important mechanism in the fight against public sector corruption across areas that include the police and the prison system.

“As it stands, whistleblowing is a fairly thankless task,” Professor Goldsmith said.

“Many people suffer reprisals that affect their professional and private lives – the question is how we can encourage people who have witnessed misconduct to come forward without fear of repercussions.

“We need to toughen up the scheme so that legal action or workplace measures can be taken against people who bring about reprisals, and we need to stress that the responsibility of management is key.”

Incentives could also play a role, he said.

“People who blow the whistle get very little recognition – we need to find a way to acknowledge the value of what they do within the workplace and also publicly, as well as ensuring that their careers are not prejudiced.”

Professor Goldsmith said organisations are ambivalent about having the whistle blown on activities inside their organisation.

“An external organisation, such as an ICAC, should have the ability to take over the protection of the whistleblowers where there is a high risk to the whistleblower within that organisation, or if it has a bad record of protecting whistleblowers,” he said.

The fact that after its two decades of existence, the South Australian legislation has hardly if ever been invoked carries a strong implication that it is inadequate, Professor Goldsmith said.

“We know that a lot of people see stuff that is wrong or should not be occurring but don’t report it,” he said.

“Getting the whistleblower legislation right is integral to public sector integrity.”

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