Open Government Partnership – Australia

1.1 - Improve whistle-blower protections in the tax and corporate sectors

Objective and description:

Australia will ensure appropriate protections are in place for people who report corruption, fraud, tax evasion or avoidance, and misconduct within the corporate sector.

We will do this by improving whistle-blower protections for people who disclose information about tax misconduct to the Australian Taxation Office. We will also pursue reforms to whistle-blower protections in the corporate sector, with consultation on options to strengthen and harmonise these protections with those in the public sector.

Status Quo:

The prevention of corruption, waste, tax evasion or avoidance and fraud relies upon appropriate protections for people who report these wrongdoings.

Australian public servants who act as whistle-blowers have some protection under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013 (PID Act). While there are also protections available to corporate whistle-blowers, those protections lag behind the PID Act and protections available to whistle-blowers in other countries (such as the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act 2010 in the United States, and the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (amended in 2013) in the United Kingdom). Current protections in the corporate sector are overly narrow and make it unnecessarily difficult for those with information to qualify for protections.

In the 2016-17 Budget, the Government also announced it would introduce whistle blower protections for people who disclose information about tax misconduct to the Australian Taxation Office.

A research project into public interest whistleblowing, Whistling While They Work 2, is currently being led by Griffith University and is looking into improvements across the public and private sectors. The project is partly funded by the Australian Research Council, and its initial survey of organisational processes and procedures is now available at www.whistlingwhiletheywork.edu.au.

Ambition:

To reduce corruption, waste, tax evasion or avoidance, and fraud by ensuring protections are in place for people who report such activities.

Relevance:

This commitment will advance the OGP values of public accountability and transparency by:

  • encouraging, protecting and compensating whistle-blowers whose information reveals artificial tax structures and misconduct; and

  • reducing other forms of corruption, fraud and misconduct by ensuring corporate whistle-blowers are also encouraged, protected and compensated.

OGP Grand Challenge: 

  • Increasing Corporate Accountability

  • More Effectively Managing Public Resources

Timeframes:

December 2016 – June 2018

Lead agency:

Treasury (whistleblowers@treasury.gov.au

Other actors involved:

  • Government - Australian Taxation Office, Australian Securities and Investments Commission, Australian Prudential Regulation Authority, Attorney-General’s Department, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and other relevant agencies, state and territory governments, Parliament of Australia

  • Non-government - Corporations, peak industry bodies (including Law Council of Australia, tax advisors, other law and accounting bodies), non-government organisations (including Australian Open Government Partnership Network, Transparency International Australia, Accountability Round Table), Board of Taxation, academia, and whistle-blowers

Milestones:

  • Establish Parliamentary inquiry.*

    • No later than 30 November 2016 - 30 June 2017

  • Treasury to release a public consultation paper covering both tax whistle-blower protections and options to strengthen and harmonise corporate whistle-blower protections with those in the public sector.

    • December 2016 - March 2017

  • Development and public exposure of draft legislation for tax whistle-blower protections (informed by consultation). Recommendation to Government on reforms to strengthen and harmonise whistle-blower protections in the corporate sector with those in the public sector (informed by consultation).

    • May 2017 - July 2017

  • Finalise and introduce legislation for tax whistle-blower protections.

    • August 2017 - December 2017

  • Introduce legislation to establish greater protections for whistle-blowers in the corporate sector, with a parliamentary vote no later than 30 June 2018.

    • By December 2017 - By 30 June 2018

 

*             Amendments were moved to the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2014 in November 2016 which significantly strengthen whistle-blower protections for people who report corruption or misconduct in unions and employer organisations.  The Government has committed to supporting a Parliamentary inquiry (Inquiry) to examine the Registered Organisations Commission whistle-blower amendments with the objective of implementing the substance and detail of those amendments to achieve an equal or better whistle-blower protection and compensation regime in the corporate and public sectors. It should be noted that the timetable for review and consultation set out above in the Open Government Partnership – National Action Plan, is shorter than the timetable that will apply to the Inquiry process.