Why Australia’s strengthening whistleblower protections are good for business

This year has marked a significant shift in Australia’s approach to the protection of whistleblowers who report corporate wrongdoing within their workplace. Given these changes, businesses need to be thinking not just about how to comply with proposed legislative requirements, but also how to leverage a growing body of guidance to build a more effective whistleblower protection regime. After all, employees represent the greatest opportunity to identify and eliminate corporate malfeasance and prevent damage to the company reputation and operations.

So far this year, we have seen in Australia:

  • Release in May of the preliminary results of Griffith University’s Whistling While They Work 2 research project into corporate whistleblowing attitudes and policies;
  • Release in September of the Whistleblower Protections Report by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services; and
  • Release of an exposure draft of the Treasury Laws Amendment (Whistleblowers) Bill 2017 by the Federal Government.

Earlier this week, an International Standards Organization (ISO) meeting in Shenzhen, China considered a proposal to develop an international whistleblower protection standard.

All of these are positive developments. A high proportion of organisational wrongdoing comes to the attention of an organisation’s stakeholders, regulators or investigation agencies as a result of someone, in the guise of a whistleblower from the rank and file of the organisation, coming forward. Experience has shown time and again that an organisation’s own workforce is the best source of information in relation to wrongdoing, whether it is within the organisation, by the organisation, or by external parties connected with the organisation.

39% of cases of internal wrongdoing are reported by the organisation’s own people according to the 2016 Report to the Nations Report on Occupational Fraud and Abuse by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. Corporate Australia, the government sector, the not-for-profit sector and indeed the Australian public, need more whistleblowers to come forward and these legislative and guidance initiatives, working together, will assist in achieving that outcome. But compliance is only one aspect of this issue – organisation’s need to recognise that a strong whistleblower protection regime makes good business sense.