I am an active Twitter user with well over 2000 followers. My Twitter community are among those most interested in the political scandals that characterise the recent news cycle, whether it be the Panama Papers or Parakeelia.
My Twitter community and I share moral outrage at the scandals we hear about like the ComBank Insurance scandal uncovered by Dr Benjamin Koh on 4Corners or the treatment dished out to vet Dr Lynn Simpson after she reported appalling animal welfare conditions on board live export vessels as part of her official review of animal welfare standards. Like most whistleblowers, both these people were simply doing their jobs, applying their expertise and ethics in the service of the vulnerable- acting on behalf of us all. Like many whistleblowers, their jobs if not their careers are terminated, they face expensive legal challenges and other kinds of bullying.
Dr Lynn Simpson was treated in an appalling manner for her honesty. Makes u wonder what other gov consultants are forced to ignore. #abc730
— Rosie Williams (@Info_Aus) June 22, 2016
When we hear of scandals and injustices we may well ask why they went on for so long but then one only has to see how those who expose wrong-doing are treated to understand what a difficult decision it is to blow the whistle.
As recently stated by the Senate Economic Committee Inquiry into financial reforms sparked by financial sector scandals:
“Whistleblowers play a critical role in identifying and stopping misconduct in the corporate sector. However, Australia’s corporate whistleblowing framework does little to help or encourage whistleblowers to come forward, nor does it provide them with meaningful protections from victimisation when they do decide to blow the whistle…
This situation is unacceptable. No-one should be forced to decide between exposing corporate fraud and misconduct and protecting their careers and broader wellbeing. Australia’s whistleblower framework must encourage whistleblowers to come forward, and protect them when they do so.”
Despite this damning treatment common to Australian whistleblowers, The Whistleblower Handbook (2011) revealed that according to extensive research carried out by PriceWaterhouseCoopers that “whistleblowers detected and exposed more wrongdoing in the corporate world than every investigator and auditor working for every law enforcement regulator agency combined.”
The Handbook (which focuses on the US which has laws forcing corrupt government contractors to repay funds obtained through corrupt practices) states that “Over the past twenty years, the billions of dollars recovered by the government from fraudulent contracts, the majority of money was obtained as a direct result of whistleblowers filing claims under one old whistleblower protection law (the False Claims Act).”
Another research report published by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners found that “Tips were by far the most common detection method… catching nearly three times as many frauds as any other form of detection…employees were the most common source of fraud tips.”
This research validates the anecdotal experience in Australia that following official channels does little to hold dirty organisations accountable. There is the ‘official’ advice on how whistleblowers should proceed. Then there is the ‘un-official’ advice put together from years of experience with the reality of just how inadequate most official channels prove to be in serving the needs of Australian whistleblowers.
One of my observations coming out of the recent consultation to draft Australia’s first National Action Plan for Open Government was that open government is made up of issues that overlap one another to either reinforce or undermine accountability, transparency and civil rights. Whistleblower protections need to be strengthened as do our right Freedom of Information, privacy and media freedom. These issues are not divisible from one another.
Retention of meta-data, secrecy laws and open data all intersect. Media freedom and the documentation of wrong-doing often requires Freedom of Information. Even where open data is available and usable, it often requires further investigation via FOI to get to the bottom of things. Australia’s ebbing right to digital privacy means that Australians investigating potential wrongs can become subject of AFP investigations.
I have also observed that these communities tend to be self-contained. While our most famous whistleblowers internationally are also technical experts of the highest order, most whistleblowers are not at all tech savvy. There’s no overlap between Whistleblowers Australia and the young tech community with the knowledge to help people hide their identities online and secure their communications- whether for everyday use or when dealing with more controversial issues.
As a result of my experiences with open government in Australia I am opting to create a comprehensive resource stretching across these communities. This blog will focus on whistleblowers and those who work with them: the legal fraternity, FOI, privacy & digital rights advocates. I aim to source articles across these topics and in doing so build up a network of supporters for Australian whistleblowers which can then form the basis of future projects.
If you have expertise or experience in the following topics and would like to submit a blog post please get in touch with Rosie at ATCRA @ protonmail.com :
- Technology & Security for Whistleblowers
- FOI and How to use it
- Real Whistleblower Stories
- How you are or your organisation can help whistleblowers
- Legislation &/or policy relevant to Whistleblowers, FOI, privacy