Australia Needs Stronger Whistleblower Protections

Australia Institute

The prosecution of Richard Boyle demonstrates Australia's whistleblowing laws are too weak, and governments are too secretive, according to the Australia Institute's Democracy & Accountability Program.

Richard Boyle, a former Australian Taxation Office worker, became a whistleblower after contacting the ABC with his concerns about unethical workplace practices within the ATO. Boyle had initially reported his concerns internally and to oversight agencies before going to the media.

As a result of his actions, Boyle was charged with multiple offences under Australian whistleblower laws. He applied for immunity from prosecution under the Public Interest Disclosure (PID) Act but was denied. He now faces trial and the possibility of prison time.

Australia Institute polling research found that:

  • Over 7 in 10 Australians (71%) agree that whistleblower protections for public servants should be strengthened
  • The vast majority of Australians (75%) say that whistleblowers make Australia a better place
  • The majority of Australians (61%) people say that whistleblowing strengthens national security and our system of government
  • More than one in two Australians (52%) say that the Australian Government is too secretive about how it deals with allegations of corruption, 26% say it is 'about right', 11% say it is too open

"In the last few years, Australians have witnessed secret court hearings; police raids on journalists; warrants with details blacked out; and prosecution of those who have spoken the truth in good faith, believing the law protected them," says Bill Browne, Director of the Australia Institute's Democracy & Accountability Program.

"Australians' rights and freedoms have been whittled away by governments whose response to scandal is to shoot the messenger.

"Brave whistleblowers have exposed alleged war crimes perpetrated by Australian soldiers, over-zealous enforcement by the Tax Office against small business and spying on Timor-Leste that gave Australia the edge in oil resource negotiations over its poorer ally.

"Australia Institute polling research finds that the vast majority of Australians agree whistleblower protections should be strengthened and that whistleblowers make Australia a better place.

"Richard Boyle should never have been prosecuted. Australia's whistleblowing laws need to be expanded and strengthened and backed up with a dedicated whistleblower commission to advise and protect whistleblowers."

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