The highly anticipated joint Parliamentary Committee report on whistleblower protections was released in September 2017, and with it came a series of sweeping recommendations for reform to whistleblower protections.
These recommendations are likely to form the basis of legislative change, to bring Australia in line with comparable jurisdictions such as the USA and the UK. It is expected the legislation will commence as early as June 2018.
What are the recommendations?
The key recommendations include:
- Private and public whistleblower legislation – consolidating all Commonwealth private sector whistleblower legislation (including corporations and tax law) into one Act, and bringing the public sector legislation in line with the new private sector Act.
- Broader coverage – broadening the definition of ‘disclosable conduct’ to include a contravention of any law (Commonwealth/State/Territory), industry code or professional standards; and expanding whistleblower protections to allow former and current staff, contractors and volunteers to report concerns.
- Increased protection – standardising whistleblower protections across public and private sectors for anyone who has made or might make a disclosure, provided that the person reasonably believes that there has been disclosable conduct; and protecting the actions of recipients of disclosures.
- Reporting channels – a tiered approach to whistleblower reporting which comprises internal, regulatory and external reporting, and explicitly provides for anonymous disclosures.
- Reward system – empowering a whistleblower protection body or prescribed law enforcement agency to reward whistleblowers with a percentage of any penalty imposed on a wrongdoer.
- Reprisal sanction – allowing courts to impose criminal or civil sanctions in response to reprisal action.
- Whistleblower Protection Authority – establishing a Whistleblower Protection Authority to administer the proposed regime, which would involve supporting whistleblowers, assessing whistleblowing allegations and investigating reprisals.
If put in place, these recommendations would largely mirror the whistleblower protections already in place under the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009 (Cth) which regulates union conduct.
These recommendations are positive for both employers and employees.
Sound whistleblower protections support good corporate governance, by encouraging the identification of fraud, corruption and other unlawful conduct at an early stage. A clear legislative framework will also assist in establishing more efficient and consistent whistleblower standards and practices throughout Australia.
Employers should prepare themselves for likely future broad scale changes in our workplace and corporate laws by re-evaluating their whistleblower reporting procedures. In particular, employers may wish to consider formulating a plan to respond to the proposed legislative reforms. This would include:
- Educating management about the potential impact of the committee’s recommendations, so that they are ready for change
- Establishing or amending existing whistleblower procedures and
- Training employees on those policies and procedures.
If you have any questions about this topic or would like our assistance in preparing for these changes, please do not hesitate to contact us.