‘Profoundly wrong and unjust’: Prosecution of Richard Boyle highlights need for reform

‘Profoundly wrong and unjust’: Prosecution of Richard Boyle highlights need for reform

02 May 2021 By Naomi Neilson
ATO

The Commonwealth’s decision to proceed with its charges against public servant and now whistleblower Richard Boyle has drawn the ire of human rights lawyers who have accused the Director of Public Prosecutions of permitting an ongoing saga that only goes to show the need to urgently overhaul whistleblower protection laws.

Just last month, the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP) Sarah McNaughton told Senate estimates that she was considering dropping the charges against former Australian Taxation Office (ATO) employee Richard Boyle who blew the whistle on aggressive debt recovery practices targeting small businesses.

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Although Mr Boyle’s revelations led to several reviews and policy reforms, lawyers for the CDPP told a court on Thursday, 29 April that the prosecution would proceed. His case will be the first major test of protections available under the Public Disclosure Act (2013) as he faces a maximum sentence of life behind bars.

Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) senior lawyer Kieran Pender said the prosecution of Mr Boyle is “profoundly wrong and unjust” and that there is “no public interest” in putting him on trial for blowing the whistle: “Whistleblowing is not a crime”.

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“Mr Boyle’s brave decision to speak up helped uncover deeply concerning practices being used by the tax office and was most certainly in the public interest. Yet rather than applaud Mr Boyle, he was prosecuted,” Mr Pender said, adding: “The fact someone can be threatened with 160 years prison for exposing misconduct in the tax office highlights an urgent need for change.

“Not only does this place immense emotional and financial strain on someone who was only seeking to do the right thing, but in turn has a chilling effect that silences everyday Australians from speaking up about wrongdoing.”

Mr Pender added that the Morrison government has been sitting on urgently needed reform of the Public Disclosure Act since the Moss Review was delivered in 2016. Five years on, draft amendments are still yet to be shared publicly.

The HRLC is calling for the Public Interest Disclosure Act to be reformed and for the CDPP to drop the prosecution of Mr Boyle along with those of fellow whistleblowers, including David McBride, Bernard Collaery and Witness K.

“Recent events in Parliament have underscored the ability of individuals to highlight wrong and unlawful conduct and spark systemic change. Whistleblowers play a vital role by ensuring transparency and accountability in our democracy. When whistleblowers suffer, our democracy suffers,” Mr Pender said.

‘Profoundly wrong and unjust’: Prosecution of Richard Boyle highlights need for reform
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