Whistleblower protection legislation in Australia has three objectives: (i) to facilitate the making of disclosures about public interest wrongdoing in government departments, (ii) to ensure such disclosures are properly dealt with, and (iii) to ensure the protection of whistleblowers. These objectives align with the three core purposes of accountability: reporting information, justification and debate, and the rectification of any wrongdoing.
Using empirical data collected by a national research project, ‘Whistling While They Work’, this thesis analyses the experiences of whistleblowers who make their disclosures to external accountability agencies - auditors-general, ombudsmen, corruption and crime commissions and public sector standards.
The whistleblowers in this study reported wrongdoing to their own departments, out of loyalty to their organisation and trusting that their managers shared their ethical values and commitment to integrity. Only when this trust was breached, did they make their disclosures to external accountability agencies in the hopes of achieving rectification of the wrongdoing and protection from reprisals.
The focus of the analysis is on the extent to which accountability agencies are achieving the objectives of the legislation. The fundamental conclusion is that they are not.
Resource constraints and problems with the legislation itself, particularly the ‘public interest’ threshold test, clearly contribute to agencies’ limited achievements. In large part, however, accountability agencies have failed to develop approaches to whistleblowing that take into account the needs and vulnerabilities of whistleblowers. Accountability agencies trust the ‘distributed integrity’ in government departments in the same way as they do for other areas of their work, for example, complaints from the general public. In doing so, they fail to use the many-faceted experience of whistleblowing to improve accountability. All too often, they simply confirm whistleblowers’ disappointment in the standards of ethics and accountability within the public sector.