Wellington whistleblowing event recap

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Hero or traitor? The role of whistleblowing in our society

To be a truly democratic society we should all feel empowered to speak out and ‘blow the whistle’. But this is never as easy as it sounds.

On Tuesday the 21st of February, Transparency International New Zealand (TINZ) and Victoria University of Wellington (VUW) Institute of Governance and Policy Studies (IGPS), held a panel on the dilemma of whistleblowing.

Hero or Traitor? The Role of Whistleblowing in Our Society brought together experts from a range of backgrounds.

The Chair for the evening was Lyn McMorran, Executive Director of the Financial Services Federation, the industry body representing responsible, ethical finance and leasing providers in New Zealand.

Whistleblowing event panel Michael Macaulay &mdash VUW, Rebecca Rolls &mdash SFO, John Perham &mdash Crimestoppers and panel chair Lyn McMorran

Whistleblowing event panel Michael Macaulay of VUW, Rebecca Rolls of SFO, John Perham of Crimestoppers and panel chair Lyn McMorran

The speakers were:

  • Rebecca Rolls, Investigations General Manager from the Serious Fraud Office (SFO).
  • John Perham, Board Chairman of Crimestoppers - a charity, independent from Police, which offers nationwide channels through which people can provide information about crime and wrongdoing and be guaranteed anonymity.
  • Dr Michael Macaulay, Director of the Victoria University IGPS and Co-Lead Researcher on the biggest whistleblowing research in Australasia.

The aim was to discuss the current state of whistleblowing within New Zealand, the challenges whistleblowers face, and how we can all contribute to strengthening and understanding whistleblowing and its practice.

Lyn McMorran defined what whistleblowing is and why it is so important in the context of the Financial Services Federation. Presenters then made a brief presentation followed by a discussion session.

Rebecca Rolls, explained the role of the SFO in whistleblowing cases and provided some examples of successful whistleblowing cases she had witnessed in her time with the SFO.

John Perham provided an excellent overview of what Crimestoppers is, how it engages with the authorities and the importance of anonymity in protecting the identity of individuals to encourage successful whistleblowing.

Dr Michael Macaulay discussed the research he is doing in collaboration with Professor A.J Brown of Griffiths University: “Whistling While They Work 2: Improving managerial responses to whistleblowing in public and private sector organisations.” He noted that the whistleblowing dilemma is one that many grapple with. Nevertheless, it is essential to uncover corruption and preserve strong integrity systems. The two big questions the research seeks to address are:

  • How are our efforts to facilitate and manage whistleblowing, including support and protection, and tracking and performing? What’s most useful to know? And what are the best indicators for tracking improvement?
  • What factors make the difference in enabling managers (and management, i.e. whole organisation) to handle whistleblowing better? What helps managers make the right calls? And what explains the biggest problems / weaknesses?

During the discussion following question time, it was made clear that the Protected Disclosures Act is not easy to understand (and hence, employees often feel that it is unsafe to report evidence of inappropriate behaviour) and that whistleblowing needs to be strengthened in both the public and private sectors.

Ideas for improvement include a Whistleblowing Protection Agency, a reward system and the need for cultural change.

Recent events such as the Ministry of Transport fraud by Joanne Harrison suggest that public sector whistleblowing may need to be handled outside of the directly affected departments, either by the Serious Fraud office or the State Services Commission. Whistleblowers need to feel safe and heard when making disclosures.

In December 2016 State Services Commissioner, Peter Hughes, asked public service CEOs to strengthen their internal systems. In his media release, Commissioner Hughes also invited public servants to contact him directly if they failed to get sufficient responses elsewhere.

As the Australia/New Zealand whistleblowing research project is ongoing, anyone who would like to take part in providing information, particularly from the private sector, is encouraged to get in touch with Dr Macaulay at Victoria University - Michael.Macaulay@vuw.ac.nz .

Victoria University's recording of the event is available here.

Whistleblower resources include the following:

Information about 'whistle-blowing' under the Protected Disclosures Act Office of the Ombudsman

Making a protected disclosure “blowing the whistle” Office of the Ombudsman

Whistleblowing and informants Financial Markets Authority

www.nzme.co.nz Whistleblower Policy NZX companies have whistleblower policies (as required by the NZX code). This is a good example

Protected disclosures protection for whistle blowers chapter 17 communitylaw.org (see the sign language video)

https://www.crimestoppers-nz.org/crime-prevention/resources

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