Expert outlines five-step guide to Whistleblowing

Expert outlines five-step guide to Whistleblowing

TINZ (Edited)
Wellington, December 21, 2019

Professor Michael Macaulay (Victoria University Picture)

Whistleblowing processes are vital to the integrity, good governance and freedom from corruption in institutions across the world, a top academic and expert has said.

Dr Michael Macaulay, Director, Institute of Governance and Policy Studies and Associate Professor in Public Management, School of Government, Victoria University, Wellington, said that many organisations are increasingly becoming aware of the benefits and responsibilities that go with effective speak up processes. 

Speaking at a breakfast meeting organised by the Chartered Accountants of Australia and New Zealand (and Transparency International New Zealand in Wellington recently, he also recommended a five-step guide to whistle-blowing.  

Speaking Up Persons

The term ‘Whistle-blower’ has lost some currency because of its negative connotations.  Nevertheless, it is still a well-known term to describe a person who exposes secretive information or activity that is deemed illegal, unethical, immoral or not correct within a private or public organisation.

Accordingly, ‘speak up’ processes require careful design and implementation to encourage and protect people (e.g. staff members at any level) who speak up about organisational wrong-doing.

The Protected Disclosures Act 2000 sets out New Zealand’s whistleblowing legislation. Many commentators including TINZ, consider this Act substantially deficient. It has been under review, but there is no indication of when the legislation will be changed.


New Zealand Research

Professor Macaulay spoke about the soon to be released Clean as a Whistle – Lessons for New Zealand report that provides an update on New Zealand’s whistleblowing practices and shortfalls. The findings in this report are distilled from a broader Australasia-wide report, ‘Whistling While They Work 2 Project’ (August 2019).

This promotes a five-step circular process to achieve better whistle-blower policy and practice. The New Zealand report identifies current issues and offers tips for best practice on developing positive workplace interventions including establishing new forms of oversight.

Some key points

Professor Macaulay identified key points from the research in regard to New Zealand.

They are  (a) trust and safety are the top reasons for non-reporting (reluctance to speak up) (b) the greater the seniority of the alleged wrongdoer, the worse was the outcome for the reporter (whistle-blower) (c) for overall whistleblowing awareness by personnel, New Zealand’s central government scored worst of all the Australasian government categories, and New Zealand local government performs little better (d) awareness of whistleblowing legislation is low (e) New Zealand scores lowest in the provision of formal versus informal whistle-blower training, compared to all other Australasian types of government.

Moreover, the central government is exceptionally reliant on informal training (i.e. by way of team and management meetings) rather than formal training. Professor Macaulay asked whether this could reflect the generally smaller, face to face nature of many New Zealand workplaces (f) pro-active risk assessment leads to change and risk assessment reduces the extent of repercussions (g) positive change is created in organisations where whistle-blowers or others who speak up, are treated well by management and colleagues. 

An overview of the original Australasia-wide research report  Whistling While They Work 2 was included in the August 2019 TINZ Transparency Times.

Guidance to current arrangements

Chief Ombudsman, Judge Peter Boshier, sets out the nuts and bolts of the Protected Disclosures Act 2000, and why we need to lift our game in both awareness and practice in this recent article published by the Institute of Public Administration New Zealand (IPANZ). Whistleblowing: legislation is just part of the picture.

Professor Michael Macaulay is Director, Institute of Governance and Policy Studies and Associate Professor in Public Management at the School of Government at Victoria University, Wellington. The above article appeared in the December 2019 issue of Transparency Times.

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