Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Status quo "reform"

Last year, the government promised that it would strengthen whistleblower protections. Today, they finally released the bill. There's one major change: "[a] discloser is entitled to protection for a protected disclosure made to an appropriate authority at any time" - an "appropriate authority" being public sector heads, officers of Parliament, or various oversight bodies as listed in the schedule to the bill. But note who it specifically excludes: Ministers and MPs. Whistleblowers will only be able to go to the Minister where their organisation has failed to investigate. And if they just drag their feet or stage an internal coverup, you're on very shaky ground trying to do the right thing.

And other than that, its basicly a re-enactment of existing law, with updated language. There's no criminalisation of retaliation against whistleblowers - that remains a strictly civil affair, to be dealt with by the victim at their own expense. And there's no protection of disclosures to the media to ensure a full and proper investigation (permitted in some Australian states). Instead, disclosures to media are explicitly labelled as "bad faith". The law will do nothing to protect whistleblowers in the sort of case which supposedly inspired it.

If this is "reform", its the "reform" from people who think that everything is working as it should, that nothing much needs to change, and that whistleblowers are the problem rather than a solution. As for Chris Hipkins' goal of ensuring that employees feel safe to report cases of serious misconduct - explicitly seen as a failure of the current law - it will change nothing.