Better protecting 'whistleblowers' in public sector

10 OCTOBER 2011

A final report led by a CSU academic on the management of 'whistleblowers' in the public sector highlights the need to better support and protect people who come forward with reports of wrongdoing in their workplace, and suggests how to overcome the problems.

A final report on the management of ‘whistleblowers’ in the public sector highlights the need to better support and protect people who come forward with reports of wrongdoing in their workplace, and suggests how to overcome the problems.
 
CSU's Mr Peter RobertsLead author of the report, Peter Roberts from Charles Sturt University’s (CSU) Australian Graduate School of Policing, said effective whistleblower protection requires effective legislation backed up by real commitment from management at all levels in an organisation.
 
“Our research highlighted respondents around Australia who reported harassment by managers and colleagues after reporting misconduct, corruption and other wrongdoing in their workplaces. Current legislation and policies only go so far in protecting whistleblowers,” Mr Roberts said.
 
The final report of the five year project, titled Whistling While They Work: A good practice guide for managing internal reporting of wrongdoing in public sector organisations will be launched by high-profile former chair of the federal Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), Professor Allan Fels, in Canberra on Wednesday 12 October.  The launch is being hosted by the Commonwealth Ombudsman Allan Asher and independent MP, Rob Oakeshott.
 
Mr Roberts underlined the need for a culture of support for whistleblowers. “Organisation leaders must encourage reporting, act on reports where they are verified and protect reporters from adverse consequences,” he said.
 
 He said that the research used in the preparation of the Guide highlighted many complex issues in the practical management of whistleblowing cases.
 
“One issue is the large proportion of reports of wrongdoing made informally, usually orally, to an immediate supervisor. Many reports are handled immediately and dealt with satisfactorily as a day-to-day management issue,” Mr Roberts said.
 
“However, other reports of wrongdoing can become complex and difficult and result in the whistleblower suffering retaliation. The Guide provides practical advice to organisations on how to enhance protection for whistleblowers while maintaining manageable processes to deal with day-to-day issues.”
 
“We also found that maintaining the confidentiality of reports from whistleblowers was crucial for maintaining the credibility of the reporting process.
 
“If employees believe that reporting a wrongdoing will immediately spread through the informal gossip grapevine within the organisation, it is unlikely that they will come forward with reports of wrongdoing,” Mr Roberts said.
 
“The protection of whistleblowers and other internal witnesses to report corruption, misconduct and maladministration is a great unsolved problem of public sector governance. The research team sought to identify more routine strategies for preventing, reducing and addressing reprisals and conflicts that arise from whistleblowing.”
 
The Guide includes:
  • a checklist for public sector organisations to evaluate the effectiveness of their current administrative response to whistleblowing;
  • practical guidance on how to approach particularly difficult issues that can arise from whistleblowing within organisations;
  • model policies and procedures which can be quickly adapted to suit an organisation's needs;
  • producing a flowchart of the whistleblowing process; and,
  • recommended administrative structures for dealing with whistleblowing.
The report will launched at 10am on Wednesday 12 October in Committee Room S16 at Parliament House, Canberra.

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