Corporate whistleblowers 'desperate' for new protections
Whistleblower Sally McDow counts herself among the lucky few.
McDow was undermined, derided, marginalised, threatened with termination, and ultimately made redundant after blowing the whistle on corporate malfeasance at Origin Energy in 2015.
But she emerged with her life relatively intact. A highly experienced lawyer with a tight-knit family, McDow was able to withstand the immense pressure and find a new sense of purpose.
She launched the first ever court case testing the strength of Australia’s corporate whistleblower scheme in 2016, and created CPR Partners, a firm that supports fellow whistleblowers and trains corporates on their obligations.
She says the people she’s helped have had their lives all but destroyed for speaking out.
“No one wants to be a whistleblower because it’s just a fate worse than … you wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy,” McDow told Guardian Australia.
McDow is in Canberra this week, watching in hope as the government introduces a bill to the Senate that would strengthen protections for corporate whistleblowers.
Proponents are seeking to have the bill passed in this last sitting week, after it was introduced early afternoon on Wednesday.
The amendments to the Corporations Act, if passed, would better shield whistleblowers from reprisals, and allow individuals to go to the media and retain protection.
The current regime suffers from critical weaknesses. It only protects whistleblowers from reprisals from their employer if the acts constitute criminal victimisation directly linked to the disclosure. Whistleblowers are only protected if they tell their own company or the corporate regulator, the Australian Investments and Securities Commission. Going to the media does not afford protection under the current Corporations Act.
McDow says the changes cannot come soon enough, and has urged parliament to pass urgently.
“It’s needed,” she said. “I speak to whistleblowers regularly.”
“There’s a whole lot of people right now who are currently desperately waiting for this bill to pass, let alone future generations who will benefit from greater transparency.”
The bill – the result of work by some within the Coalition and the Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick – is expected to be introduced to the Senate.
The Griffith University integrity expert Prof A J Brown said the measures better protecting disclosures to journalism were a “big breakthrough”.
“Previous plans to limit this to extreme, unlikely emergencies have been shelved,” Brown wrote in the Australian.
“Instead, if employees blow the whistle at least to a regulator, and nothing is happening in 90 days, it’s relatively simple for them to go public.”
“There are some hoops to go through, and time will tell if they’re still too tight. But this is Australia’s most powerful driver yet, not just for companies to improve their culture and compliance but for federal law enforcement agencies and regulators like the Australian Federal Police, Asic and Apra to change their previous lax ways.”
Sally McDow is campaigning for stronger corporate whistleblower protections.