It can be hard to know when to be a ‘dobber’. But there are times when the actions of others require us to take a stand. When we know it is time to speak up. It is at that point that we hope we will be recognised for ‘doing the right thing’, for ‘making Australia a better and more just place’, for helping the lucky country remain the land of the ‘fair go’.
We certainly hope that we won’t be persecuted and ostracised for having the guts to stand up and be counted when it comes to doing the right thing. That is why we need strong whistleblower laws.
We don’t want people persecuted by those in power for taking a stand and calling out wrongdoing when governments, corporations and other powerful institutions and individuals are misbehaving for their own benefit. They might also harbour the misguided belief they are working for the benefit of ‘the Australian people’, as was the case against Witness K and Bernard Collaery, when they pointed out that our government was illegally spying on our neighbour, Timor-Leste.
The dropping of the Bernard Collaery case illustrates the importance of the need for strong whistleblower reforms in Australia. It represents how the current laws can be abused by those in power. And there are still people being prosecuted for bringing Australian failures to account. For highlighting where people in power have failed to act ethically and in the best interests of, not just Australians, but more broadly for human rights.
While the case of Collaery has been rightfully quashed, Human Rights Law Centre Senior Lawyer, Kieran Pender, pointed out earlier this year on World Press Freedom Day, ‘David McBride and Richard Boyle are each on trial for helping expose serious wrongdoing. Their actions have helped ensure important accountability and change, and yet they are being punished. That is profoundly undemocratic.’
On 7 July Pender and the Human Rights Law Centre called on ‘the Attorney-General to similarly intervene in the ongoing prosecutions of David McBride, who blew the whistle on alleged war crimes by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan, and Richard Boyle, who spoke up about unethical practices at the Australian Taxation Office. Boyle’s trial begins later this month.’
‘Whistleblowers should be protected, not punished – it’s as simple as that. From war crimes in Afghanistan to misogyny in Parliament House, there are many important stories that would never have been told were it not for the courageous actions of those who spoke up.’
Stopping the prosecution of Collaery was a key moment for the new government, but it is not enough. There now needs to be follow-through, with strong laws that protect not only whistleblowers but also those the whistleblowers seek to protect. Without this reform there is no way we can become the country where a ‘fair go’ is available to all.
Aslan Shand, acting editor
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