Australia appears to have moved one step closer to adopting whistleblower rewards and additional retaliation protections with a report last month by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services. The report’s main recommendation is for Australia to establish a Whistleblower Protection Authority to support whistleblowers, prioritize the handling of whistleblower tips and investigate instances of retaliation.
The report also recommends that the whistleblower protection body, or law enforcement agencies have the absolute discretion to issue a reward within a legislated range. The Joint Committee aimed to address some of the criticism leveled against such a bounty system by supporting a cap on the ultimate size of the reward that can be paid.
On the issue of anti-retaliation protections, the Joint Committee considered there to be a strong case for extending the protections in the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009 (“FWRO Act”) to other public and private whistleblowers. There was noted significant inconsistencies in the level of protections offered, and substantial weakness. The witnesses interviewed.
The Joint Committee also examined the benefits and drawbacks of anonymous whistleblowing. The Committee concluded that the weight of evidence strongly favors allowing and protecting anonymous disclosures from the private sector. It recommended that features (sections 20 and 21) of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013 be unified across public and private sector whistleblowing, including making it an offense to disclose identifying information of the discloser or failing to protect the discloser’s identity in court.
Australia has been looking at reforming its whistleblower laws for some time now. Over the summer, Financial Services Minister Kelly O’Dwyer said that the Australia Government plans to introduce a bill this year to improve whistleblower protections and is considering a US-style reward system.
The Joint Committee report which was issued in September 2017 can be downloaded online via the link here.