By Te Kawa Mataaho | Public Service Commission
The May 13th passing of the Protected Disclosures (Protection of Whistleblowers) Act 2022 bolsters protection for whistleblowers in New Zealand workplaces, across the public and private sectors. The new Act aims to make it easier for workers to raise concerns about ethics, risks, financial impropriety, and safety in the workplace – without fear of recrimination.
The Protected Disclosures (Protection of Whistleblowers) Act 2022, which replaces the Protected Disclosures Act 2000, aims to make the rules easier to access, understand, and use. The Act comes into force on 1st July 2022.
Like the 2000 Act, the Protected Disclosures (Protection of Whistleblowers) Act 2022 covers wrongdoing in, or by, any organisation – large or small, public, private, or voluntary sector. The Act is relevant to anyone who has worked, or volunteered, for any organisation.
New Zealand was one of the first countries to introduce a dedicated law to protect whistleblowers – the Protected Disclosures Act 2000, to support people to expose criminal, fraudulent, or other serious misconduct in their workplaces by protecting them from unfair dismissal or treatment. New Zealand’s Protected Disclosures law covers all organisations, whereas most other countries’ equivalent laws only apply to the public sector and/or to large corporates.
The new Act aims to give organisations the tools and legislative framework to better support processes for people to speak up about wrongdoing.
The new Act extends the definition of serious wrongdoing to cover private sector use of public funds and authority, and to cover behaviour that is a serious risk to the health and safety of any individual. A major change is that the Act enables people to report serious wrongdoing directly at any time to an appropriate authority – trusted external parties who can be approached if the discloser is not confident making a disclosure in their own organisation.
The Act strengthens protections for disclosers by:
- specifying what a receiver of a disclosure should do (including requirements for protecting the identity of the discloser and consulting the discloser)
- clarifying the protection of supporting disclosers, and removing the caveat in the 2000 Act restricting protections to those who volunteer information
- enabling disclosers to make a complaint to the Privacy Commissioner if confidentiality requirements are breached
- clarifying that any official information requests for information identifying the discloser should be refused.
All public sector organisations were required by the 2000 Act to have internal procedures for handling disclosures. The 2022 Act spells out what these procedures need to include (such as describing how these will provide practical assistance to disclosers). Public sector organisations will need to review and update their procedures for the implementation of the new Act.
All public sector organisations are also appropriate authorities, so they need to be prepared to receive more protected disclosures (as disclosers can go directly to an appropriate authority at any time).
There is still work to be done. Private sector organisations must follow the provisions of the Act (including those as a receiver of a protected disclosure) but are not required by the Act to establish internal procedures for protected disclosures.
Protection of whistleblowers who go to the media were excluded in these revisions and further follow-up regarding the wellness of disclosers should be addressed.
And there is work beyond legislation to be done around the culture of organisation. The culture of organisations should allow disclosures about wrongdoing or misconduct to be reported internally with the knowledge that such concerns are coming from employee loyalty and interest in the longer term health of the organisation.
For more information and guidance about the Act, visit www.publicservice.govt.nz/protected-disclosures-act-2022
Note from Transparency International New Zealand
Transparency International New Zealand sees the Protected Disclosures Act of 2022 as a solid step forward in reducing the detrimental impacts of speaking out against fraud and corruption within organisations.
The legislation could have been better, and there is more to do. Gaps and further actions needed were highlighted by TINZ Director Debbie Gee in a recent RNZ Media watch interview.
One of the issues we have raised is that there is not adequate ‘active support’ for whistleblowers in this new legislation.
Previous relevant Transparency Times articles
- Protected Disclosures Update by Julie Haggie
- Protected Disclosures Bill: A missed opportunity by Debbie Gee
- Whistleblower protections watered down yet again in new Bill b Michael Macaulay