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Blowing the whistle to understand culture

In Australia, the rights and protections of whistleblowers have been under the spotlight in both the corporate and private sector. This makes new legislation designed to protect whistleblowers even more aptly timed.

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In my experience of over 10 years of running ANZ’s Whistleblower Program, what prospective whistleblowers really want is someone to listen to their concerns, look into them and report back about what eventually happened - while making sure they don’t suffer any adverse consequences for raising the issue. 

"Employees observe things and they're often not sure whether it's right or wrong but they want a safe channel to simply raise the concern and let somebody else deal with it.”

This is not just a compliance operation, it's a cultural shift by organisations to shift the dial on the intangible element of culture. The information whistleblowers provide is increasingly viewed as good corporate intelligence that helps companies better understand emerging and existing conduct issues, hotspots and trends - issues that need to be looked into and addressed. 

Changing attitudes

The new legislation, launched in Australia on 1 July 2019, effectively broadens the category of who can be a whistleblower to include current and former employees, suppliers and their family members. It also broadens the category of those who can receive a protected disclosure to include directors, internal auditors and executive management.

Penalties have also been bolstered significantly for individuals and organisations who breach confidentiality or engage in victimising behaviours, including criminal sanctions and civil penalty fines of in excess of $A1 million dollars for individuals and 10 per cent of turnover or up to $A525 million for corporations.

The requirement in the old legislation that whistleblowers act in good faith has led some in  the past to focus on the motive of the whistleblower rather than the information being provided and whether there's any truth to it. Attitudes have changed significantly in this area over the past decade to a focus on whether there is any substance to the issues raised and to protecting the source. 

In replacing the ‘good faith’ requirement with a test that the whistleblower act on a reasonable basis, the new legislation recognises this.

Safe channels

Employees observe things and they're often not sure whether it's right or wrong but they want a safe channel to simply raise the concern and let somebody else deal with it.

However, it’s important to note that not all information leads to something major. Often the investigative teams might receive information, make a few inquiries and say "you know what, there's really nothing in this".

It may be a misconception, it may be a misunderstanding, but we'd much rather know about something, look into it and say “there's nothing here” than for somebody to sit on it and think "I don't want to get anybody into trouble, I don't want to get myself into trouble, I don't want to be seen to be someone who causes problems" and it turns out to be a significant issue. 

David McGowan is Group Integrity Lead at ANZ

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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