On 19 February 2019 the House of Representatives passed the Treasury Laws Amendment (Enhancing Whistleblower Protections) Bill 2018 (the Bill). Although the Bill is yet to receive royal assent, the new whistleblowing legislation will most likely commence operation on 1 July 2019. The Bill, which was amended in its passage through the Senate in December last year, will consolidate and expand the existing private sector whistleblowing regime.

As detailed in our previous alerts, key aspects of the new regime include:

  • an expansion of the types of persons that qualify for whistleblowing protections. These protections also extend to whistleblowers who disclose misconduct relating to an entity's tax affairs;
  • the introduction of emergency disclosure regimes under which protected disclosures may be made to the media or parliamentarians in certain circumstances;
  • an introduction of stronger protections for whistleblowers, including the ability for whistleblowers to make a claim for compensation in circumstances where a company breaches their duties by allowing a third party to victimise the whistleblower; and
  • the requirement for public and certain larger private companies to have in place compliant whistleblowing policies by no later than 6 months after the commencement of the legislation, which will be 1 January 2020 assuming that the Bill receives royal assent by the end of March 2019.

No amendments were made to the version of the Bill which was passed by the Senate in December 2018, but the opposition have said that if they are elected they will propose an additional Australian whistleblowing Act which would:

  • establish a whistleblowing protection authority that would oversee the regime and assist whistleblowers in their disclosures; and
  • introduce a monetary reward scheme for whistleblowers.

In anticipation of the approaching commencement date, companies should ensure that they have in place strong whistleblower policies and procedures which encourage whistleblowers to disclose their concerns to the company in the first instance and which allow the company to respond quickly and effectively. Companies should examine their whistleblowing, investigations and disciplinary policies to ensure that they are compliant with the new regime and work harmoniously with other internal compliance and human resources practices.