Whistleblowers need protections 'with teeth': advocates

Whistleblowers who expose misconduct or illegal activity inside Australian organisations have been left to run the gauntlet alone, navigating opaque laws and hostile workplaces.

Gaming industry insider Troy Stolz battled three court cases while undergoing treatment for terminal cancer after leaking an internal ClubsNSW report.

Military lawyer David McBride is awaiting sentence for taking classified information and passing it to journalists without permission.

Whistleblower David McBride.
Whistleblower David McBride is awaiting sentence for passing classified information to journalists.

Former Logan City Council chief executive Sharon Kelsey was dismissed after making a public interest disclosure to the Queensland's corruption watchdog.

A Whistleblower Protection Authority, as proposed by Transparency International Australia, the Human Rights Law Centre and the Griffith University Centre for Governance and Public Policy, could prevent these situations from happening in future.

"I've travelled a path that I would not wish on my worst enemy," Ms Kelsey told reporters in Canberra.

"We need all of the federal parliamentarians to come together ... to make a truly independent Whistleblower Protection Authority that at its heart has the single interest of protecting whistleblowers and making sure that we're all confident to be able to speak out."

The idea was first proposed in a 1994 Senate inquiry and endorsed by a joint parliamentary committee more than two decades later, even featuring as a Labor promise during the 2019 election.

Design principles presented on Monday suggested setting up a protection authority to support Australians who blew the whistle. 

Though the Albanese government ran an election platform on improved transparency with specific emphasis on a National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), Transparency International Australia CEO Clancy Moore said Labor needed to do more.

"Governments quite like setting up whistleblower protections on paper, but that's actually the easy bit," he told reporters.

"Enforcing those protections and making it real requires institutional support and investment.

"This is the time to get it right and create a whistleblower protection authority with teeth, with the capacity to fill the gaps."

Without proper protections, measures like the federal corruption watchdog would not work, independent MP Andrew Wilkie said.

"The NACC will only be as effective as the complaints that come to it," he said.

"In other words, if we don't have whistleblowers, the NACC will be seriously deficient."

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