Whistleblowing in the Australian Public Sector

Whistleblowing in the Australian Public Sector: Enhancing the theory and practice of internal witness management in public sector organisations

Edited by A. J. Brown
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    Whistleblowing in the Australian Public Sector
    Book Description:

    Of the many challenges in public sector management, few are as complex as the management of whistleblowing. Because it can lead to the discovery and rectification of wrongdoing, public interest whistleblowing is widely acknowledged as being positive for organisations and for society at large. However, the conflicts and reprisal risks often associated with whistleblowing also support a widespread belief that every whistleblower is destined to suffer, and nothing can be done to protect them from reprisals. Even if they did it once, sensible employees are often seen as unlikely to ever blow the whistle a second time around. The extensive research in this book reveals a more complex and, fortunately, more positive picture. The product of one of the world's most comprehensive research projects on whistleblowing, evidence from over 8,000 public servants in over 100 federal, state and local government agencies shows that whistleblowers can and do survive, and that often their role is highly valued. Public sector managers face significant challenges in better managing and protecting whistleblowers. There is great variation between the many public agencies making the effort, and the many agencies where the outcomes — for managers and whistleblowers alike — are still likely to be grim. This book is compulsory reading for all public sector managers who wish to turn this negative trend around, and for anyone interested in public accountability generally.

    eISBN: 978-1-921536-19-9
    Subjects: Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    John McMillan, Bruce Barbour, Robert Needham, David Bevan, James Purtill, Ruth Shean, L W Roberts-Smith, Chris Field, George Brouwer and Frank Costigan

    Whistleblowing, or the public interest reporting of wrongdoing by public officials, is a key means for identifying and rectifying wrongdoing in the public sector. The way that whistleblowers are managed is a vital issue—for the individuals and organisations involved and for public accountability and integrity more generally.

    Since 2005, the national research project ′Whistling While They Work: Enhancing the theory and practice of internal witness management in the Australian public sector′ has investigated this vital process. It is the first comprehensive project of its kind in Australia. Through the participation of numerous partners across many Australian jurisdictions, the project...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Authors and contributors
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. Glossary
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  7. Summary
    (pp. xxi-xxxviii)
  8. 1. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)
    A. J. Brown and Marika Donkin

    Of the many challenges in modern public sector management, few are as complex as the encouragement and management of whistleblowing. The complexity of the challenge is underscored by a severe lack of knowledge about some of the basic facts regarding this important phenomenon.

    Because it can lead to the discovery and rectification of wrongdoing, whistleblowing is widely acknowledged as having potentially positive effects—for organisations and for society at large. It is also, however, widely assumed to be undervalued in organisations and in many situations as a relatively rare event likely to involve something of a ′crisis′ for the organisation...

  9. Part 1
    • 2. The incidence and significance of whistleblowing
      (pp. 25-52)
      A. J. Brown, Evalynn Mazurski and Jane Olsen

      As set out in the first chapter, until now, there has been little comprehensive research to establish the overall frequency or importance of whistleblowing in the Australian public sector. Based on anecdotal accounts, even though cases of public whistleblowing can occasionally gain significant media prominence, the fact is that these cases—taken alone—suggest that whistleblowing is relatively rare. At most, Australian federal, state and local governments might each experience a few such cases each year, with occasional outbreaks of additional cases in the event of a major crisis or inquiry. Given that Australian governments employ approximately 1.66 million people...

    • 3. Who blows the whistle, who doesn′t and why?
      (pp. 53-82)
      Richard Wortley, Peter Cassematis and Marika Donkin

      In the previous chapter, it was demonstrated that whistleblowing was more prevalent than was generally believed. Large numbers of employees, however, clearly observed wrongdoing within their organisation but neither spoke up nor took any other action in response. It was also shown that there were significant differences in reporting and inaction rates across organisations—that is, in the proportion of employees who, having perceived wrongdoing, spoke up about it, or, alternatively, who appeared to take no action. What explains these significant differences?

      Later chapters will examine the relationship between different reporting and inaction rates in organisations and their approaches to...

    • 4. How do officials report? Internal and external whistleblowing
      (pp. 83-108)
      Marika Donkin, Rodney Smith and A. J. Brown

      How often do public officials blow the whistle on wrongdoing internally and how often do they do it externally? Having decided to report, what influences their decisions about to whom and how they should make their disclosure and who else they should go to if they need to take the matter further?

      These questions are important for further understanding the nature and significance of current whistleblowing and identifying the types of organisational decisions that might influence the reporting behaviour of employees. As discussed in Chapter 2, organisations tend to respond more negatively to whistleblowing if they are equipped only to...

    • 5. The good, the bad and the ugly: whistleblowing outcomes
      (pp. 109-136)
      Rodney Smith and A. J. Brown

      Public perceptions of the outcomes of whistleblowing are undoubtedly shaped by the mythic tales of triumph and failure presented in the news media and retold in popular films and books (see, for example, Dempster 1997). As previous chapters have already suggested, however, experiences of public sector whistleblowing are more diverse than popular stereotypes allow. This point holds for the outcomes that flow from whistleblowing.

      The different outcomes of whistleblowing are interrelated in complex ways. Defining outcomes as good or bad will depend on which outcomes and whose perspectives are acknowledged. Consider the following statement from a respondent to the internal...

    • 6. Whistleblower mistreatment: identifying the risks
      (pp. 137-162)
      A. J. Brown and Jane Olsen

      The previous chapter confirmed that even when the reporting of wrongdoing is vindicated, many public interest whistleblowers experience stress and difficulty. On average, it is a minority of whistleblowers who report bad treatment from management or co-workers (between 20 and 30 per cent), but this proportion is still sizeable, has direct impacts on the willingness of others to report and in some public agencies runs to a very much higher figure. Fairness, justice and the importance of fostering a positive reporting climate dictate that it is in everyone′s interests—from whistleblowers to governments—to reduce this proportion to the lowest...

  10. Part 2
    • 7. Support for whistleblowing among managers: exploring job satisfaction and awareness of obligations
      (pp. 165-180)
      Paul Mazerolle and A. J. Brown

      In the remaining chapters of this book, attention turns from whistleblowers and their treatment to the organisational cultures and systems within which whistleblowing occurs and the different elements of how individual organisations currently respond. In understanding organisational responses and some of the possible explanations for the results in Part 1, no issues are more important than those of the roles, knowledge, awareness and attitude of managers.

      Among the contradictions in current research on whistleblowing is the dual role that managers often play. On one hand, managers can foster unhealthy work environments that lead to employee complaints, low staff morale and...

    • 8. Investigations: improving practice and building capacity
      (pp. 181-202)
      Margaret Mitchell

      Whistleblowing provokes many responses from individuals in organisations and from organisations as a whole. All the evidence on whistleblowing in the Australian public sector, reviewed so far, shows two main responses to be of overwhelming importance in shaping the outcomes from any public interest whistleblowing incident:

      how well employee reports of wrongdoing are investigated and (where necessary) acted on

      how well employees who disclose wrongdoing are managed, supported and (where necessary) protected, during and after the investigation process.

      This chapter and the next address, in turn, each of these crucial issues.

      Proper investigation of workplace complaints and concerns is a...

    • 9. Internal witness support: the unmet challenge
      (pp. 203-232)
      A. J. Brown and Jane Olsen

      In recent decades, the protection of public interest whistleblowers from reprisals has become a major goal in Australian public administration. Practical theories for how this is to be achieved have, however, been slow to emerge. Much of the commitment to protecting whistleblowers has been confounded by the complexity of the issues that internal reporting provokes in the workplace, as well as by a range of conflicting stereotypes and assumptions about what whistleblowing involves, without the benefit of any detailed understanding of what really occurs.

      At the same time, concepts of whistleblower protection have often been focused on the ′back end′...

    • 10. Evaluating agency responses: the comprehensiveness and impact of whistleblowing procedures
      (pp. 233-260)
      Peter Roberts

      What does the empirical evidence about whistleblowing in Australian public sector agencies, described in Part 1 of this book, say about the quality of their systems and procedures? So far in this part, analysis has focused on the attitudes and knowledge of managers, internal investigation systems and systems for protecting and managing whistleblowers (Chapters 7, 8 and 9). This chapter present an overall picture of how the reporting of wrongdoing is formally dealt with from an organisational perspective, examining and comparing the totality of agencies′ procedures using the empirical evidence of key whistleblowing outcomes in the agencies studied.

      As is...

    • 11. Best-practice whistleblowing legislation for the public sector: the key principles
      (pp. 261-288)
      A. J. Brown, Paul Latimer, John McMillan and Chris Wheeler

      In Australia, legislative frameworks have long been considered fundamental to encouraging and managing public interest disclosures. Since 1993, almost all Australian jurisdictions have put in place relevant legislation for the public sector, as shown in Table 11.1. In practice, the content of whistleblowing legislation has nevertheless been a vexed issue. Several jurisdictions, including New South Wales, Western Australia and Victoria, have conducted or are conducting major reviews of their legislation, at least partly in response to public doubts about its effectiveness. Bills for new or replacement legislation have been introduced in the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory. At...

    • 12. Project findings: an agenda for action
      (pp. 289-312)
      A. J. Brown and Chris Wheeler

      In this book, new research has revealed that far from being rare, whistleblowing is a relatively common and routine activity in a majority of public sector agencies. Part 1 of the book showed that in the four jurisdictions studied, on a conservative estimate, 12 per cent of employee survey respondents had acted as public interest whistleblowers in their organisation over two years. Even if often problematic, whistleblowing is a natural feature of public sector life.

      The research also showed that, contrary to the bleak picture of whistleblowing as a crisis in which every whistleblower is destined to suffer for their...

  11. Select bibliography
    (pp. 313-324)
  12. Appendix A. Research questions
    (pp. 325-328)
  13. Appendix B. Wrongdoing categories and types
    (pp. 329-330)
  14. Appendix C. A new framework for internal witness management systems
    (pp. 331-334)