Calling out Corruption: IBAC Committee recommends changes to Whistleblowing protection

I am pleased to speak on the third report of the Victorian Parliament’s Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission Committee, Improving Victoria’s Whistleblowing Regime: A Review of the Protected Disclosure Act 2012. On behalf of the deputy chair, who is the member for Footscray, and myself, I will begin by saying a big thanks to our staff, who did outstanding work on a report that was difficult and also very technical: executive officer, Sandy Cook; researcher, Dr Stephen James; and our administration officer, Justine Donohue. I also thank the committee members: the members for Footscray, Prahran, Mordialloc and Gippsland South in the Legislative Assembly and members Jaclyn Symes and Simon Ramsay in the other place. The committee worked in a very constructive, efficient and effective way. Yes, there were some very difficult topics that we came across and had to work through, but the way the committee worked was, I thought, outstanding. I am extremely grateful for that. The committee was established following the creation of the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission Committee and the Victorian Inspectorate by the previous Liberal-Nationals government in 2011. At the time the creation of IBAC was described by the government as among the most far-reaching and fundamental reforms of the anti-corruption and integrity system in Victoria’s history. In December 2015 we brought down a report, Strengthening Victoria’s Key Anti-Corruption Agencies?. The report identified concerns by key stakeholders regarding the nature and operation of protected disclosures, better known as the whistleblower regime. The committee decided to review the whistleblowing regime, and as a result we tabled a report yesterday. It was difficult for the committee in some respects to look at the way that whistleblowers are being treated. It is well known that whistleblowers can suffer reprisals for exposing wrongdoings. The Protected Disclosure Act 2012 is one way of trying to protect whistleblowers against reprisals, in part by safeguarding their identity and the contents of their disclosures. It also helps that whistleblowers have the confidence to come forward when they are going to report any wrongdoings. That is easier said than done. A number of witnesses who had been whistleblowers came forward to give evidence. I think some would say they regretted coming forward to blow the whistle on a wrongdoing. Others said that despite what had happened to them, they had no regrets. In some situations people lost their jobs. There were also financial difficulties and, in some cases, financial ruin because they came forward to blow the whistle on what they believed was wrongdoing. In many of the cases we heard about the whistleblower actually proved that what they were saying was correct. In one case that we heard about recently the whistleblower actually had to sell his house in order to keep financially afloat. When we asked people, ‘Would you do it all again?’, there were some reservations about the fact they came forward. As I said earlier, some said that they should have never come forward. As a result they would have never come forward to blow the whistle on a wrongdoing, especially in areas around corruption or where staff are being underpaid. That would have continued, maybe for many, many years, which would have been blatantly wrong. Recommendation 22 dealt with the term ‘protected disclosure’. If you ask people what protected disclosure actually means, many will say, ‘I have no idea’. When people want to blow the whistle or want to understand what the whistleblower regime is in Victoria, they search ‘whistleblowers’. One of the recommendations — it is only a very simple one — is to change the title of the legislation to Protected Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Act 2012. That means that when you go into Google and type ‘whistleblower’, it will come up automatically and you will not have to scroll down for pages and pages to work out what protected disclosures are. Another recommendation concerns disclosure to journalists. We are asking the government to do more work around that to see whether that is a positive step forward.