The corporate and not-for-profit sectors are lagging behind the public sector in terms of whistleblower protection policies, new data shows.
But government policies are still far from perfect.
Why Australian whistleblowers deserve better
Whistleblowers who call out corporate corruption in America receive government payouts, but those in Australia face unemployment and an uncertain future.
The data, contained in a report into different whistleblower policies by Griffith University professors A. J. Brown and Sandra Lawrence, shows the Commonwealth government, followed by the Queensland and New South Wales government, score the highest in terms of having policies in place that encourage and protect workers to speak out about bad behaviour.
The not-for-profit education and training sector and the private manufacturing and retail sectors score the lowest and have the weakest policies in place, it shows.
Government organisations have better processes in place to deal with whistleblowers than the private and not-for-profit sectors, according to new data. Photo: Michele Mossop
Australia has limited legal protections for corporate and public sector whistleblowers, meaning employees are often forced to trust internal mechanisms to deal with their complaints despite them often involving senior managers.
The report measures different organisations’ approach to whistleblowers based on five key assessment criteria, including whether they have a support strategy in place for staff who raise concerns, and whether they try to prevent reprisals against staff who speak out.
It ranks each sector with an average score out of 10; the Commonwealth government scored 6.95, and the not-for-profit education and training sector scored 3.89.
The finance and insurance sector, which has been forced to improve its internal whistleblower policies after a series of scandals, was the best scoring industry in the corporate sector, scoring 5.7 out of 10.
The data takes into account the policies an organisation has in place, not how well an organisation implements those policies.
It is the first time that internal whistleblower processes have been measured and compared in different sectors and jurisdictions.
Professor Brown said the report showed most sectors were “flying blind” about how to encourage and protect staff who blow the whistle.
“They’ve been told to have a hotline and a reporting channel … but clearly there’s both demand and need now for better guidance on how to also make support and protection real,” he said.
“The fact that even the most advanced public sectors are also still weak on support and protection processes, confirms the need for new thinking and improved, smarter standards across the board.
A parliamentary inquiry is under way to examine whistleblower protections in the corporate, public and not-for-profit sectors.
Government regulators, experts and advocacy groups have called for greater legal protections for whistleblowers, including a compensation scheme for people who speak out and protection from reprisals.
But company directors and corporate lawyers have pushed back against moves to protect whistleblowers who take their complaints public, saying claims of misconduct should be assessed internally only, or by a government regulator.
The Finance Sector Union told the Senate inquiry that members inside the sector were still reporting that they were being pressured into staying silent over concerns about misbehaviour inside the banks.
The union said frameworks for internal reporting by whistleblowers inside companies were often “completely inadequate”.
“It’s pure poetry when you read their policies around this,” FSU national secretary Julia Angrisano told the inquiry.
Australian Council of Superannuation Investors chief executive Louise Davidson said whistleblower provisions in Australia were too weak and did not support whistleblowers adequately.
“That has a flow-on effect to create less than optimal corporate cultures,” she said.