Push to protect whistleblowers

The Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) is demanding a whistleblower protection authority be formed after a report found there had been no successful decision for a whistleblower under federal public or private sector laws.

Cost of Courage: Fixing Australia’s Whistleblower Protections released by the HRLC in August compiles every whistleblower protection case to proceed to judgment across Australia, and is the first comprehensive review of such cases.

Most of the 70 cases arose under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013 (Cth), the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth), and the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2010 (Qld).

The report sets out key reforms for the oversight and enforcement of the statutes, which if enacted, “could see Australia’s whistleblowing laws at long last deliver on their intended purpose: to empower whistleblowers to be vital agents of accountability and justice,” the HRLC said.

Cases on foot include former military lawyer David McBride being prosecuted for exposing war crimes in Afghanistan, and former Australian Taxation Office (ATO) employee Richard Boyle being prosecuted after revealing aggressive debt collection tactics at the agency.

In July last year, Federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus dropped the prosecution of former ACT Attorney-General Bernard Collaery, who had been charged for his role in publicising Australia’s spying against Timor Leste.


HRLC Senior Lawyer Kieran Pender said Mr Dreyfus should establish a whistleblower protection authority to ensure that whistleblowers were protected, not punished and prosecuted.

“People who courageously speak up when they see something wrong are vital to ending cultures of impunity,” Mr Pender said.

“They should be recognised as human rights defenders, not punished. Our laws should protect these individuals and hold accountable those in power who breach human rights, yet Australia is lagging behind global standards. 

“In recent years, courageous whistleblowers have braved risks to expose malpractice in the banking sector, environmental destruction, misogyny at the highest levels of our public institutions, abuses in offshore detention centres and war crimes committed by Australian forces in Afghanistan. But what don’t we know because prospective whistleblowers are staying silent?”

On 24 August, the Melbourne-based HRLC launched the Whistleblower Project, the country’s first dedicated, specialist legal service for whistleblowers.

On 12 September, more than 70 organisations and individuals signed a letter to the Commonwealth Government, published in daily newspapers, calling for an end to the prosecution of whistleblowers and for urgent whistleblower protection reform.


Signatories included leading civil society organisations, unions, and distinguished journalists, lawyers, retired judges, and former whistleblowers.

Mr Dreyfus has committed to a discussion paper in 2023-24 on the need for a whistleblower protection authority, in respect of the public sector only.

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