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Those who speak need reformed protection

A THIRD of public servants have observed wrongdoings in their agencies they consider “very” or “extremely” serious, but have failed to act upon the situation by reporting…

A THIRD of public servants have observed wrongdoings in their agencies they consider “very” or “extremely” serious, but have failed to act upon the situation by reporting it.

The news comes from a report by academics at Griffith University calling for legislative reform around public whistleblowing, as well as a revamp of the operations systems at public agencies used to manage whistleblowers, and the associated support programs.

The special minister of state John Faulkner launched the study in a speech last week which said that legislation would be the preferred model for protecting whistleblowers in the future and that the research by Griffith University would provide the framework.

Faulkner said that transparency was essential for accountability, and that the government was “committed to broadening and strengthening public interest disclosure measures through a pro-disclosure system across the Australian Government sector so that proper reporting and investigation systems are put in place”.

Such reform could see the removal of criminal penalties for whistleblowers in the public sector — protecting whistleblowers from liability and offering them the ability to claim financial compensation if they suffer reprisals as a result of their disclosure.

About a fifth of those same employees have formally reported a wrongdoing in their organisation with the most likely candidate to do so being female and, surprisingly, not disgruntled by their working situation or driven to report wrongdoings due to perverse personal reasons. Of those who do make a report, 37 per cent don’t believe their disclosure was investigated.

It’s rare, though, to hit up the media in the first instance to acknowledge the wrongdoing. — 97.1 per cent of public interest whistleblowers report internally initially, with only 9.7 per cent of whistleblowers ever involving external agencies or the media at any stage of the process.

Based on interviews with 7500 public servants over three years, the report, Whistleblowing in the Australian Public Sector, is the largest study of its kind undertaken in Australia.

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