Australia’s law in respect of managing reports of corporate wrongdoing from whistleblowers and the protection afforded to whistleblowers has come under heavy scrutiny since 2014. Recent media reports of public whistleblowing has reinforced the public debate about Australia’s less than adequate whistleblower regime and has highlighted the great personal and financial risks that whistleblowers take and the personal impact on their lives. It is little wonder that enhancing whistleblowing protections is gaining momentum in Australian politics and organisations are seeking guidance on ‘best practice’ integrity reporting and management of whistleblower informants.
What is changing?
A number of material legislative changes are anticipated in the coming financial year. The changes will not only provide much needed improvements for the protection of whistleblowers, they will also place clear responsibilities on organisations to ensure their integrity systems to support the legislation are in place and operating. It is expected that the changes will demand a higher standard of integrity reporting from these organisations as it will require them to be more vigilant in handling internal reports of wrongdoing and protecting whistleblowers from personal and financial detriment.
The exact timing of when the legislation will be passed into law is not known, however it is anticipated this will be in the first half of the 2019 financial year.
Why do organisations need integrity reporting programs?
A robust and effective whistleblowing protection framework can bring many benefits to an organisation including reducing losses and investigation costs, minimising regulatory and media scrutiny and limiting consequential reputational damage. Significantly, any concern held by employees of retribution and recrimination directed at whistleblowers can be addressed through the creation of a culture of ethics, integrity and good governance. Knowing that a person is supported by way of an integrity reporting program that can protect their anonymity while providing the reassurance of taking a complaint seriously, goes a long way towards contributing to this culture.
While the proposed legislative changes support this proposition it will ultimately be the commitment of Boards and senior management with support from in-house legal teams to achieve what Australia is attempting to accomplish across the corporate landscape. We see the best preparation for the anticipated amendments to the current whistleblower protection laws involving a blend of legislative compliance and good corporate governance.