Australia must hold its nerve and course to ensure statutory protection of public whistleblowing, according to academic and author A J Brown.
Speaking yesterday (23 June) at an international whistleblowing conference, the Griffith University professor and author of Michael Kirby's biography Paradoxes & Principles said Australia's commitment to introduce federal public interest disclosure laws by 30 June 2011 was set to expire with no laws, no stakeholder consultation and no alternative timetable announced.
"Maintaining momentum has become a real challenge," said Brown.
"Conflicted responses of some Australian leaders to WikiLeaks, under the shadow of an even less sustainable US Government position, reinforce the need to maintain a clear, long-term vision about the role of whistleblowing in ensuring integrity in government."
The federal delay contrasts with legislative reform at the state level, where new public interest disclosure acts were passed in both Queensland and NSW in 2010 - each hailed as containing world-leading innovations to compensate whistleblowers whose lives and careers are adversely affected by their service.
Positive moves for protection have also been achieved for journalists with introduction of a federal "shield law" in the last 10 months.
"But this simply protects journalists from the risk of jail if they refuse to reveal confidential sources - it does nothing, at law, to protect whistleblowers," said Brown.
Brown presented his paper, Flying Foxes, WikiLeaks and Freedom of Speech: Statutory Recognition of Public Whistleblowing in Australia, to a conference at Middlesex University, London, following a one-on-one meeting with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange last week.
Reactions to the success of the internet publisher WikiLeaks, including its Australian founder, brought the issue of whistleblowing to the forefront of international debate as never before.
Brown's paper summarised the long, yet unfinished, road towards a Commonwealth Public Interest Disclosure Bill. Almost four years since federal commitment to such reform was reactivated, a further self-imposed deadline (30 June 2011) is about to pass without any recent detectable progress.
"On one hand, Australian governments have been restating and strengthening their 'in principle' commitments to values of transparency and integrity in government ... on the other, international political pressure and vacillations in leadership, combined with natural institutional resistance to change, mean that key reforms also hang in the balance," said Brown.
The International Whistleblowing Research Network Conference continues today in London with speakers including UK Professor Indira Carr on Whistleblowing as an Anti-Corruption Tool: the Case of the UK Bribery Act; Australian Dr Eva Tsahuridu on Whistleblowing Management is Risk Management, and German Dr Björn Rohde-Liebenau on The Role of Ombudsmen in the Fight against Corruption.