On 13 September 2017, the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Corporations and Financial Services (PJC) released its report on its inquiry into whistleblower protections in the corporate, public and not-for-profit sectors.
The Committee identified that current whistleblower protections remain largely theoretical with little practical effect, due, in large part, to the near impossibility under the current legislation of:
- protecting whistleblowers from reprisals;
- holding those responsible for reprisals to account;
- effectively investigating alleged reprisals; and
- whistleblowers being able to seek redress for reprisals.
The Committee also attributed the difficulties to the fragmented and inconsistent nature of whistleblower legislation across public and private sectors, with the public sector perceived to be more robust than the private sector.
Key recommendations of the Committee include:
- establishing a Whistleblower Protection Authority to support whistleblowers, assess and prioritise the treatment of whistleblower allegations, conduct investigations of reprisals and oversee the implementation of the whistleblower regime for both the public and private sectors;
- broadening protections in the private sector and introducing a single Act to regulate whistleblowing in the private sector;
- broadening the definition of a ‘whistleblower’ to include former staff and also contractors and volunteers, and broadening the scope of ‘disclosable conduct’;
- replacing the ‘good faith’ test with a requirement to have a ‘reasonable belief of the existence of disclosable conduct’;
- extending the whistleblowing protections to anonymous disclosures;
- establishing a tiered reporting system;
- establishing a reward system for corporate whistleblowers;
- allowing civil proceedings and remedies to be pursued if a criminal case is not pursued; and
- availability of uncapped financial compensation for whistleblowers through a tribunal system.
On 28 September 2017, the Hon Kelly O'Dwyer MP, Minister for Revenue and Financial Services also released the Terms of Reference for, and details of the members of, an Expert Advisory Panel on whistleblower protections to review and comment upon draft legislation which the Government expects to introduce this calendar year that:
- establishes whistleblower protections for people who disclose information about tax avoidance and other breaches of tax laws administered by the Commissioner; and
- strengthens existing corporate whistleblower protections under statutes administered by ASIC and APRA.
The Panel will also review and advise the Government in respect of the PJC’s recommendations for legislative reforms to enhance whistleblower protections in the private, public and not-for-profit sectors, and any further stakeholder or community consultation required.