Clean as a Whistle – a five step guide to better whistleblowing policy and practice in business and government.
This report presents key findings and actions flowing from the research project Whistling While They Work 2: Improving managerial responses to whistleblowing in public and private sector organisations – one of the world’s largest studies into whistleblowing, and the first large-scale project to focus on management of whistleblowing across business and government.
Coinciding with the roll-out of new corporate requirements in Australia, and proposals for further reform of whistleblower protection laws by governments from New Zealand to the European Union, the research helps pinpoint key actions which will make the difference for successful implementation of whistleblowing policies – at organisational and whole-of-government levels.
This guide works as a companion to new regulatory requirements, guidance and proposed standards for whistleblowing policies, programs and reform.
Whistleblowing is a vital pillar in the integrity, governance and compliance systems of every organisation, and healthy, corruption-free institutions across society as a whole. These key findings and actions identify what needs to be done, at practical and policy levels, to ensure this positive role is realised for all our benefits.
Find a copy of the report here
Integrity@WERQ was developed as part of the Australian Research Council Linkage Project Whistling While They Work 2: Improving managerial responses to whistleblowing in public and private sector organisations (2015 -2019).
Integrity@WERQ surveyed 46 organisations based in Australia and New Zealand, capturing the experience of 17,778 individuals relating to processes for reporting wrongdoing, actual reporting, and management or observation of the process of reporting.
This survey sheds new light on how any type of organisation – public or private, big or small – should approach the task of making whistleblower protection ‘real’ as part of their integrity, compliance and governance systems. As well as whistleblowers’ experience, it draws heavily on the experience of managers and governance professionals who have dealt with reporting cases, and focuses strongly on the response to reporting, and its outcomes, not simply the reporting itself. The research reinforces the importance of new legal and regulatory arrangements to underpin, incentivise and enforce good organisational practice.
These results have been referenced in forthcoming changes to corporate whistleblower protections under the Treasury Laws Amendment (Enhancing Whistleblower Protections) Bill 2018.
The initial Survey of Organisational Processes and Procedures surveyed 702 organisations across the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors in Australia and New Zealand.
Evidence of strong efforts of many organisations includes 89% of respondent organisations indicated they had formal, written whistleblowing procedures or policies. However gaps in current processes are still evident with 49% of businesses and 51% of not-for-profit organisations (38% of all organisations) indicating that they did not assess the risks of detrimental impacts that staff might experience from raising wrongdoing concerns, either at all or until problems began to arise.
These results have been presented at the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services public inquiry on Whisteblower Protections in the Corporate, Public, and Not-For-Profit Sectors.
Whistling While They Work 1 broke new ground in surveying the incidence and significance of whistleblowing across 118 public sector organisations in Australia, from all levels of government. Its datasets totaling 8,813 individual respondents made it the world’s largest specific-purpose research project into whistleblowing, per capita.
The project stemmed from investigations, research and policy work undertaken by the project leader, A J Brown, as a senior investigator for the Commonwealth Ombudsman and consultant to Queensland’s Crime and Corruption Commission (1994-2004). Supported by 15 public integrity agencies across most of Australia, and Transparency International Australia, the project had a major impact on:
- Identifying current and prospective ‘best practice’ systems for whistleblowing policies and procedures in the Australian public sector, and
- Reform or introduction of public sector whistleblower protection laws – including the 2009 inquiry of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs leading to Australia’s current federal public sector legislation (Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013), and equivalent laws in Queensland (2010), New South Wales (2010) and the Australian Capital Territory (2012).
The following are some key publications from previous projects. Details of further publications, including academic publications, are available on request.
Whistleblowing: New rules, new policies, new vision.
Work-in progress research from the Integrity@WERQ Phase – Whistling While They Work 2. These working papers present work-in-progress results of Integrity@WERQ – the main data collection phase of the research project Whistling While They Work 2: Improving managerial responses to whistleblowing in public and private organisations. Between late 2016 and May 2018, in 46 public, private and not-for-profit sector organisations in Australia and New Zealand, we collected 17,778 individual responses to Griffith University’s Workplace Experiences & Relationships Questionnaire (WERQ). These data capture the experience and perceptions of:
- 7,391 individuals who observed wrongdoing in their current or a previous organisation (5,509 in their current organisation; 1,881 in a previous organisation);
- 5,054 individuals who reported the most serious wrongdoing they observed (3,785 in their current organisation);
- 3,611 managers and governance professionals who directly dealt with, managed or were aware of cases where other staff reported wrongdoing (in their current organisation); and
- 1,493 instances where staff members did not report the most serious wrongdoing they observed, but dealt with it themselves or were aware that other people reported it (including 950 in their current organisation).
The working papers document is available here.
Strength of organisational whistleblowing processes – Analysis from Australia & New Zealand
An extension of the second report from Whistling While They Work 2. Launched in Wellington, by the New Zealand Ombudsman Peter Boshier, State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes, and project leader Professor A J Brown. The results from 699 organisations – including 65 New Zealand public agencies and local governments – provides organisations and governments with a first-ever basis for systematic comparison of strengths and weaknesses in whistleblowing processes. The full report can be downloaded here.
Strength of organisational whistleblowing processes – Analysis from Australia.
A second report from Whistling While They Work 2. Launched by Louise Petschler of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, with Dennis Gentilin of Human Systems Advisory and John Price, Australian Securities and Investments Commissioner. The analysis uses results from five questions to create a scale measure (expressed as a score out of 10) of strength of processes reported for 699 organisations, across 19 sector/jurisdiction groups. The full report can be downloaded here.
Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services.
Professor AJ Brown made a preliminary submission to the inquiry on whistleblower protections in the corporate, public, and not-for-profit sectors. On the 23rd of February 2017, Professor AJ Brown along with Associate Professor Kath Hall, Dr. Nerisa Dozo, and Dr. Sandra Lawrence spoke at the public hearing held in Brisbane. The full report was released on the 13th of September 2017 and can be found here.
Whistleblowing Processes and Procedures – An Australian and New Zealand Snapshot
The first preliminary report of Whistling While They Work 2, launched by Professor John McMillan AO, Acting New South Wales Ombudsman and then Hon Anthony Whealy QC, Chair, Transparency International Australia. The full report can be downloaded here.
Whistleblowing in the Australian Public Sector
The first major report of Whistling While They Work 1, launched by Australia’s Special Minister of State (Senator John Faulkner), was published by ANU Press and Australia & New Zealand School of Government as Whistleblowing in the Australian Public Sector (A J Brown, ed, 2008). It is free to download, or purchasable in hard copy, here.
Whistling While They Work: A good practice guide for managing internal reporting of wrongdoing in public sector organisation
The major practical lessons of Whistling While They Work 1 were published as Whistling While They Work: A good practice guide for managing internal reporting of wrongdoing in public sector organisations (Roberts, Brown & Olsen, 2011), launched by the Dean of the Australia & New Zealand School of Government (Professor Allan Fels AO), the chairman of the Federal Joint Parliamentary Committee on Public Accounts and Audit and the Commonwealth Ombudsman in October 2011. The guide is free to download, or purchasable in hard copy, here.
International Handbook on Whistleblowing Research
Our researchers also played a lead role in assembling the most comprehensive current overview of whistleblowing research worldwide, the International Handbook on Whistleblowing Research (Brown, Lewis, Moberly & Vandekerckhove, eds), published by Edward Elgar in 2014. Spanning sociology, political science, psychology, information systems, media studies, business, management, criminology, public policy and several branches of law, the Handbook charts the lessons of 30 years of empirical research and maps out new questions and projects for future decades. It can be found in all good libraries or ordered here.
Breaking the Silence: G20 Whistleblower Protection Laws
Whistling While They Work research has also played a role in the world’s first independent review of the comprehensiveness of whistleblowing laws across the G20 group of nations, conducted by an international team in 2014 and 2015. The 2015 report, Breaking the Silence (Wolfe, Worth, Dreyfus & Brown 2015), can be downloaded from Blueprint for Free Speech, here.
World Online Whistleblowing Survey
Project researchers were also the first to explore systematic approaches to researching public attitudes and experiences regarding whistleblowing on an international basis, under an Australian Research Council project (DP1095696) involving Griffith University, University of Melbourne and Greenwich University in 2010-2013. For an overview of key results from the first World Online Whistleblowing Survey, including representative population sample results from the United Kingdom and Australia, order or download our chapter, Brown, Vandekerckhove & Dreyfus (2014), ‘The Relationship between Transparency, Whistleblowing, and Public Trust’, in P. Ala’i & R. Vaughn (eds), Research Handbook on Transparency, Edward Elgar.