What new whistleblowing protections mean for the public sector

Clarity’s Director, Nathan Luker, recently spoke with Government News on what the expanded whistleblowing provisions mean for the public sector.

At the beginning of the year ASIC began auditing companies across the nation to check they have compliant whistleblower policies in place.

The audits follow changes to the Corporations Act in July this year which outline expanded whistleblower provisions and require public companies, large proprietary companies, and corporate trustees of APRA regulated superannuation entities to have policies in place by 1 January 2020.

The new regulations were designed to encourage and protect whistleblowers to speak up while discouraging corporate fraud and misconduct by strengthening previously fragmented and confusing legislation.

The expanded protections incorporate a wider range of reportable misconduct, protect a larger group of people, allow anonymous disclosures, create more avenues for redress and increase potential penalties for employers.

To date the response to the new regulations has largely been positive, with many seeing the increased protections for whistleblowers as a reflection of the public’s desire for greater accountability (and consequences where warranted) for company directors.

What’s most caught the attention of corporate Australia, however, is the dramatically increased penalty framework under the new regulations.

Tough new penalties

As of 1 January, individuals will face fines of up to $1 million for detriment to whistleblowers and confidentiality breaches (errors of judgement included), as well as jail sentences of up to two years, and corporate fines up to $525 million, and the public sector isn’t exempt.

While state and federal government agencies must comply with relevant Public Interest Disclosure legislation for whistleblowers, a number of them are affected by complex applicability issues which require them to comply with both the Public Interest Disclosure requirements and also the Corporations Act corporate sector requirements.

This group of agencies includes local councils and transport providers across Australia.

Similarly, NDIS providers may be caught by complicated applicability questions that require them to comply with the NDIS Act and the Corporations Act, and in some cases these two acts may hold conflicting standards.

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The article originally featured in Government News on 20 January 2020.