The Australian Joint Parliamentary Committee on Corporations and Financial Services released their report on whistleblower protections in Australia. The committee recommends instituting a whistleblower protection program that includes a reward system for whistleblowers when imposing a penalty against wrongdoers. The committee recommends that the specific percentage allocated to the whistleblower be determined by the relevant court or body that imposes the penalty. The committee also recommends that the portion given to a whistleblower be based on the timeliness of disclosure, the appropriateness and accessibility of an internal whistleblowing program, whether the protected matter was disclosed to the media, whether the whistleblower received compensation for adverse actions taken against him or her by the employer, and whether the whistleblower was involved in the improper conduct.
Following the report’s release, the Turnbull government was urged to move quickly to enact such a whistleblower protection act. The committee report urges the Turnbull government to establish a Whistleblower Protection Authority to serve as the locus for whistleblowers in both the public and private sector. The report calls for the new Whistleblower Protection Act to be introduced by June of next year.
The report has been in the works for many months and its preparation included five public hearings and receiving submissions from seventy-five stakeholders on both sides. The committee expressed a belief that current whistleblower protections in Australia are inconsistent and do not do enough to protect whistleblowers from retaliatory action. Senator Nick Xenophon a leading proponent of the potential reforms said “This will put employers on notice that cover-ups will no longer be tolerated, nor will they be able to intimidate and destroy the careers of those who disclose serious wrong-doing that’s in the public interest.”
A KPMG forensic director pointed out that the reward system proposed by the committee differs from the U.S. style whistleblower reward program and said “anyone expecting a bounty bonanza may need to temper expectations.” Some like Law Council of Australia President Fiona McLeod noted the importance of whistleblowers in stamping out corruption and fraud but cautioned against moving too swiftly in instituting a reward program without further dialogue. Overall, this new report presents a positive step for whistleblowers in Australia receiving further protections and potentially could mark a shift towards more rewards style programs that at least somewhat mirror the U.S. approach.
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