New Zealand needs to grasp the nettle of protected disclosures immediately

Michael Macaulay

Michael Macaulay Associate Professor
The School of Government, Victoria University

by Michael Macaulay, Associate Professor

The School of Government, Victoria University

TINZ delegated authority for Open Government Partnership

Our recent report into Trans-Tasman whistleblowing processes indicates that New Zealand has fallen behind our Australian counterparts on just about every measure. This news was greeted by surprise in some quarters, which turned to a grudging acceptance once the aftermath of the recent tribulations at the Ministry of Transport (MOT) came to light.

Yet the results weren’t really any kind of a surprise. The 2013 State Services Commission’s integrity and conduct survey, reported the responses of over 13,000 public sector workers from across a wide range of agencies. Among other things, it found that only 30% of respondents felt that their agency investigated allegations of misconduct in a robust manner, and the same percentage expressed satisfaction with their agency’s response. In terms of bullying, only a mere 25% of respondents felt that the outcome of their complaint was fair.

Our work, therefore, didn’t really discover anything new but rather revealed that very little had been done to resolve the issues that the public service itself identified as problematic.

The tide appears to be changing somewhat. In the wake of the MOT scandal the State Services Commission (SSC) has unveiled it’s ‘Speak Up” guidelines. There is also the much publicised creation of a new Deputy Commissioner for Integrity, Ethics and Standards, although that post has yet to be filled on a permanent basis. These are both very positive steps but we can and should be looking much further ahead.

Our research is already being used by colleagues at the International Organisation for Standardisation to start work on an ISO standard for protected disclosures. New Zealand should be leading this charge and should reassess our own Protected Disclosures Act. We need to clear up who the public can turn to. We should look again at the role of the media.

International research has repeatedly shown that many people blow the whistle to the media because they are unable to find the correct person to turn to in their own organisations. One can’t do this in New Zealand under terms of the Protective Disclosures Act (PDA).

Everybody knows that the concerns over whistleblowing in New Zealand are real. Many of you reading this will be experiencing your own problems in this regard. You shouldn’t have to. Let’s make it stop.

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