Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Whistleblowers hung out to dry: report

A national study led by Griffith University says fewer than 2 per cent of public interest whistleblowers get support from their government agency.

It says there is a huge gap that needs to be filled to prevent mistreatment of workers.

Over 7,500 public servants from more than 100 government agencies around the country were interviewed for the three-year project.

Project head Dr AJ Brown said that around a quarter of all whistleblowers within the public sector say they have been mistreated.

"It's an inherently difficult issue to manage, and inherently stressful, so the question is how do we actually lift the bar on making sure that there are better outcomes for a higher proportion of those conscientious public servants," he said.

"We've got clear evidence from the research that people who do find it more stressful than it need be and who get mistreated are less likely to do it again.

"And clearly send the message throughout the organisation is that this is not an organisation where it's safe to blow the whistle."

Dr Brown says Australia's laws are lagging behind other more progressive countries, such as the United Kingdom, and there needs to be stronger Commonwealth legislation to protect whistleblowers and serve the public interest.

"It's almost impossible in a large number of cases to separate out what might be a private motivation from the public interest content of what it is that people are disclosing," he said.

"[This is] one of the reasons why there needs to be strong legislation and strong systems within agencies to help guide the whistleblower and the agency through the process of sorting the wheat through the chaff and making sure that responsible action is taken on those matters which it does need to be taken."

The Federal Government says it is considering a new report which has found whistleblowers in the public service need greater support and protection.

Special Minister of State John Faulkner says no changes will be made until a Parliamentary inquiry into the current laws reports back in February next year.

"The report will help to inform the Government's consideration of changes to our public interest disclosure system, providing very useful input as we work out the best way forward," he said.

The Federal Government expects to draft national whistleblower legislation some time next year after a parliamentary inquiry reports its findings in February.

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