- Parliamentary Business
- Senators & Members
- News & Events
- About Parliament
- Visit Parliament
STANDING COMMITTEE ON LEGAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL AFFAIRS
Whistleblowing protections within the Australian government public sector
House of Reps
- Parl No.
- Committee Name
STANDING COMMITTEE ON LEGAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL AFFAIRS
CHAIR (Mr Dreyfus)
Whistleblowing protections within the Australian government public sector
- System Id
Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Table Of ContentsDownload PDF
Previous Fragment Next Fragment
STANDING COMMITTEE ON LEGAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL AFFAIRS
(House of Representatives-Thursday, 21 August 2008)
NEWLAN, Mr Dean Wesley
CHAIR (Mr Dreyfus)
BARTLETT, Mr Peter
KERR, Mr Ian
ACTING CHAIR (Mr Slipper)
FRANCIS, Professor Ronald David
LAPIDOS, Mr Jeffrey
McPHEE, Mr Richard
LEONARD, Mr Grahame James, AM
POPOVSKI, Mr Sam
BORGAS, Dr Michael Stewart
ZIRNSAK, Dr Mark Andrew
McMULLEN, Mr Antony
- Ms NEAL
Content WindowSTANDING COMMITTEE ON LEGAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL AFFAIRS - 21/08/2008 - Whistleblowing protections within the Australian government public sector
CHAIR (Mr Dreyfus) —I formally open the first public hearing of this inquiry into whistleblower protections within the Australian government public sector. A transcript of what is said will be placed on the committee’s website. If anyone else here wants further details about the inquiry or transcripts you can ask the committee staff who are with us today. Welcome to all those who are here. Although the committee does not require you to speak under oath, you should understand that these proceedings are formal proceedings of the Commonwealth parliament and that giving false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as a contempt of parliament. Do you wish to make a brief introductory statement of, say, five minutes before we proceed to questions?
Mr Newlan —Yes, I would like to. Just to put into context my knowledge and role in terms of whistleblower protection, I am President of the Australian Institute of Professional Investigators, which I will refer to as the AIPI. I have been a member of that body for 12 years. I have been national president for 18 months and I am also the Victorian chapter president. We have a role in representing professional investigators as an industry body throughout Australia. As a representative of the AIPI I also sit on the Standards Australia governance advisory committee, MB4, and through that capacity I have had involvement with the development of two standards I believe to be relevant to whistleblower protection—that is, AS 8001, which is the fraud and corruption control standard, and also AS 8004, which is the whistleblower protection for entities standard. I have been the chair of both of those working parties and have developed those standards. AS 8001 has recently been reissued, after revision, four years after original release. AS 8004 is currently going through a revision, and I am the chair of that working party.
I have a particular interest in whistleblower protection as well in that in my consulting role I advise clients on fraud and corruption prevention and detection. I see whistleblower protection and whistleblower reporting mechanisms as being a very important part of bringing matters of concern to the surface. It is one of the most effective ways of finding out if there is, indeed, improper conduct going on within the organisation.
In terms of the submission made by the AIPI—and I forwarded that through before the closing date for submissions on 8 August—I just wanted to highlight four or five key submissions that the AIPI wanted to make to the committee. The first submission is that we believe that AS 8004, being the whistleblower protection standard, should be considered in the development of legislation within the Commonwealth government setting.
Secondly, in our view the categories of persons that can avail themselves of protection under a legislative regime should include not only those people who are internal or formerly were internal to the government agency concerned but also people who engage with it. By that I am referring to contractors who are not employees or in the capacity of an employee with the department but suppliers and contractors to the government agency, who should also be able to avail themselves of protection under the whistleblower protection systems. The precedent for that is in the Victorian legislation, the Whistleblower Protection Act 2001, which has a similar provision about suppliers to government agencies.
Our third submission is that we think that the legislation should actively encourage people to come forward, and it really is a question of good faith rather than whether they have strictly met the reporting guidelines. In other words, we are saying that we should not have a very specific view on what is reportable and what is not reportable and therefore if it is not reportable then you cannot seek protection. We think that that should be opened up so that, if a person is acting in good faith and they are reporting a matter that is of concern to them, they should be able to do that and avail themselves of protection.
The fourth submission that we made is that whistleblowers should be able to remain anonymous if they wish. Again, the precedent for that is the Victorian legislation dealing with the public sector in Victoria. That is the act I am most familiar with. I am not familiar with the other legislation interstate. Under the Victorian Whistleblower Protection Act it is possible to remain anonymous and to still avail yourself of protection of the act in terms of reprisal for having blown the whistle.
Our fifth submission is that we think that there is a role for external reporting agencies to receive matters of concern from people within the government agency. Around the country I think that does vary. In Victoria, for example, under the act it is not possible to report a matter of concern about misconduct and so on to an external agency. That has to be reported within the government sector. They are the five main submissions that we wish to make. I think there is a bit more detail in our submission of 8 August, but I do not think it really takes it very much further.
CHAIR —Thank you very much, Mr Newlan.
Mr GEORGIOU —I am just a bit puzzled by the ambit of the things that should be covered by whistleblower legislation. What can you blow the whistle on? You said at the beginning that you felt it was a bit constrained and it should be more open. What is it legitimate to blow the whistle on?
Mr Newlan —I think the types of conduct that are referred to in the terms of reference are the types of conduct that I would see as being the subject of whistleblowing action. What we are saying is that we should not narrow it too much. If there is a person who has a particular concern and they do decide they want to blow the whistle, but then the system says, ‘That is not sufficient. That does not meet the case for protection. I’m sorry, you do not get protection, because the matter you have raised is too minor, too immaterial,’ we want to avoid that.
Mr GEORGIOU —I am not quite sure what that means: you like the criteria but you think it should be more elastic. Where do we draw the bounds?
Mr Newlan —I think the examples given are correct. It is just that, if you look at the terms of reference, it refers to these as being ‘examples’. I would not like to see a situation where the legislation says, ‘If you report these things and they are significant things then you can get protection. If you report something in this category that is not regarded as sufficiently serious, well, I am sorry, you do not get protection.’
Mr GEORGIOU —So it is just significance?
Mr Newlan —Yes.
Mr GEORGIOU —So the categories remain—like corruption, misconduct.
Mr Newlan —The categories I think are correct—
Mr GEORGIOU —You do not go any further than that but you may be a bit flexible about significant public interest.
Mr Newlan —Yes. Also, the examples and definitions given in AS 8004 do align fairly well with what is in the terms of reference. So we agree with that.
Mr GEORGIOU —So it is a matter of public interest. The McManus and Harvey case did not involve illegal activity, corruption, misconduct, maladministration, breach of public trust, scientific misconduct et cetera. It did not include, to the best of my knowledge, any of those; it was just acutely in embarrassing for the minister that it was disclosed that she got rolled.
Mr Newlan —Yes.
Mr GEORGIOU —So would that fall under it?
Mr Newlan —I would think it would fall outside of my definition of what is reportable misconduct, yes. In my role in terms of investigating corruption and helping my clients prevent that, the most important thing we focus on is internal misconduct involving theft, misappropriation, corruption and so on. In terms of maladministration, that does not come up, in my experience, as much as the other types of conduct.
Mr GEORGIOU —So there can be a legitimate public interest in disclosure of information. In this case it was about the amounts given to returned service persons.
Mr Newlan —Yes.
Mr GEORGIOU —It was acutely embarrassing for the minister and for the government. It was, in my view, a matter of public interest—if it got out. It may be justified on the basis. But the person who leaked the material would not be covered?
Mr Newlan —Yes. I think it is probably a matter of good faith. What is the motivation for bringing the matter forward? If it is for some sort of political advantage where there is no real public interest, then you may not be availed of protection.
Mr GEORGIOU —I will ask one more question and then I will stop. What concerns me is that you seem to be fudging the issue. Having made a very firm series of commitments, then you say, ‘Oh, but then it is a matter of intent.’ In this case, a piece of information was leaked to the press which was arguably in the public interest, but it was not about any of these things; it was just about a foreshadowed decision that got bounced. Does it fall within the parameters? Would you classify that—
Mr Newlan —I am not familiar with the case. I do not know. I would need to know a lot more about it before I could make a comment about that.
Mr GEORGIOU —Thank you.
Mr NEUMANN —You said that the threshold for reporting should not be so high as to discourage the reporting of information, and you talked about good faith. You seemed to be saying that paragraph 2(a) in the terms of reference details the kinds of disclosures which should be protected. Just because someone makes a disclosure, should there be any qualifications such as an honest and reasonable belief that the allegations are of that kind? Is that what you are saying?
Mr Newlan —I agree with that, yes.
Mr NEUMANN —You agree with that?
Mr Newlan —Yes, absolutely. And there should be penalties if somebody breaches that. So if somebody comes forward with a false allegation or an allegation where they are reckless as to their knowledge of it, we believe that should be subject to sanction.
Mr NEUMANN —So if someone knowingly or recklessly made those allegations then you would say that that would be the sort of condition upon which they should be sanctioned?
Mr Newlan —Yes, I would agree with that. And also not be able to avail themselves of protection as well, which might be a separate issue.
Mr NEUMANN —You said that whistleblowers should be able to remain anonymous if they choose. Do you foresee any circumstances where their identity should be disclosed?
Mr Newlan —We think that being able to make submissions or blow the whistle anonymously is a way to encourage people to come forward. I have seen this in my own work, where we provide a national 1800 number for people to blow the whistle on clients. If they believe that they can make a report anonymously, they will tend to come forward, and that is just human nature. If they believe that they cannot remain anonymous, then that tends to make them hold back. So we think quite a bit of information that is provided anonymously is very valuable information and should not be ignored. It should be subject to preliminary investigation at least to see if there is confirmation of the information that has been provided and whether there is a justification for doing a more complete investigation.
Mr NEUMANN —Where do you see that fitting in with concepts like natural justice, when someone anonymously makes an allegation against another person? Where does the person accused fit in?
Mr Newlan —I do not see any difficulty with that, because the information that you are being provided with anonymously is subject to preliminary behind the scenes investigation. At that point you are not doing a full-blown investigation, you are just testing the veracity of the information that has been provided to you. If there is no confirmation of the information provided then the investigation does not go any further. I think that is a proper course to adopt—the information is received and a preliminary investigation is conducted to test the veracity of the information. If that does not hold up then there is no further action taken, but it should be recorded.
Mr NEUMANN —Thank you.
Mr BUTLER —Can you point us to a jurisdiction where an external reporting agency is operating?
Mr Newlan —In the private sector, yes, but not in the public sector, as far as I am aware. In Victoria I think it is a regulation that says specifically that you cannot use an external agency to provide this service.
Mr BUTLER —In our terms of reference we are looking into whether disclosure to a third party could be appropriate in circumstances where all available mechanisms for raising a matter have been exhausted. What does your organisation say about that, particularly about its potential breadth and things like disclosure to journalists and suchlike?
Mr Newlan —I think we are really saying that if there was an alternative reporting mechanism in place then people would not tend to go directly to the press; they would use the mechanism that is already there, which would be an external party. The way that works is that the information goes through to the external party and there is direct line of communication back to the senior people within the client agency.
Mr BUTLER —That is as a matter of practice. Do you say, as a matter of principle, that whistleblower legislation should not cover disclosures to third parties such as journalists?
Mr Newlan —I think there should be a number of alternative avenues of reporting. We do not really have a view as to whether the press should be specifically included in that. We are probably stopping one step before that and saying there should be an alternative reporting mechanism in place such as an external agency that is officially receiving information and officially passing the information back through to the employer.
Mr BUTLER —Thank you.
CHAIR —I have a few questions about the Australian standard. Some of them are formal ones because you are in the unique position of being closely involved in the preparation of both the corruption control standard and the whistleblower protection programs standard. We understand that the whistleblower protection programs standard, the one that you are on the committee for, is in the process of being reviewed. Can you tell the committee anything about what is happening there?
Mr Newlan —No. It is at a very early stage at the moment and has not really progressed that far. One of the main reasons for that is that Dr AJ Brown, who is a member of the working party that is redeveloping the standard, is completing research. It is a research piece that he has been involved with for the last 18 months to two years. A preliminary report of that was issued late last year and there is a further report due, I think, in October of this year. We are awaiting the outcome of that research, which I might add is really focused just on the Commonwealth public sector. We are looking at the outcome of that research before we further develop AS 8004. At the same time as we were getting underway with the revision of AS 8004 we became aware of this particular committee, so we wanted to see the outcome of this committee before we did that further revision. AS 8004, as issued in 2003, is working well for those organisations who use it. I know through my own consulting work that a lot of people do refer to that particular standard and use it as guidance. As it is working well, we do not see any need to rush into further development until this committee completes its work and AJ Brown has completed his research.
CHAIR —You have put a lot of importance in your submission on this standard. It is a standard that has been developed in effect for internal use in organisations, both government and non-government. I appreciate that it has been written intending to cover the field, but would it be fair to say that its focus is to some extent a private-sector focus?
Mr Newlan —It was aimed broadly across the country, but it is fair to say that we thought that the private sector might pick it up more than the public sector would.
CHAIR —It is intended as an internal code to govern the way in which corporations deal with employees who wish to make disclosure of improper conduct or illegal conduct.
Mr Newlan —It is intended to provide guidance for developing an internal code. It is not in the position where an organisation could implement the standard.
CHAIR —Indeed not. It is a standard which sets, as all standards do, guidelines that say, ‘This is the way in which you might approach this particular matter.’ In particular, it is giving direction to the development by each corporation, on a corporation-specific basis, of codes of conduct.
Mr Newlan —It gives direction on whistleblower protection systems.
CHAIR —As such, none of this standard, the codes of conduct or systems is capable in any way of affecting substantive law; they are internal.
Mr Newlan —That is right.
CHAIR —So, when you are suggesting that the standard should be considered for incorporation into federal whistleblower protection legislation, is the suggestion really directed at saying that there are some good principles to be found in this standard?
Mr Newlan —That is essentially it.
CHAIR —Rather than saying that there are a whole lot of mechanisms that we are here prescribing that are going to be suitable for legislation.
Mr Newlan —We are recommending that the committee consider the content of the standard to see if there is anything in there that might be useful in the legislation.
CHAIR —Indeed it is a very useful document. I can see that a lot of thought has been put into developing these principles.
Mr Newlan —The other thing I would say on that point about the standard is that the way that Standards Australia standards are developed is through a process of public consultation. Back in 2002 the governance standards were sent out to the public by the working party. There was a period of six weeks for public submissions. There were a lot of submissions made about the fraud and corruption control standard and the whistleblower protection standard. So this is not just the committee’s work. This is the Australian business community saying, ‘This is what we think should be included in a whistleblower protection standard.’
CHAIR —You indicated that you are aware of a number of corporations that have adopted Australian Standard 8004.
Mr Newlan —They refer to it and sometimes they cherry-pick what they want from the standard. The other thing is that there seems to be a lot of focus with a lot of organisations on having an external reporting mechanism in place. They perhaps do not do enough in terms of putting in place a whistleblower protection policy, which is really the main point coming out of that standard. So having alternative reporting mechanisms is an important feature of what is in the standard, as is having a policy in place that says, ‘This is how we will go about protecting people who wish to blow the whistle in good faith.’
CHAIR —In other words, to act as a positive encouragement to whistleblowing behaviour—
Mr Newlan —Yes.
CHAIR —to the making of disclosures that ought to be made.
Mr Newlan —That is right. I think some corporations have a minimalist approach. What can we do as a minimum to encourage people to come forward? Okay, to us it occurs that might be having an alternative reporting mechanism in place and not worrying so much about putting in place a proper policy about protecting whistleblowers internally. I advise clients to really consider doing that as well, but sometimes it is a hard row to hoe.
CHAIR —Is there any way that you or someone at Standards Australia could give any indication to the committee as to how many corporations or agencies have adopted this standard or are using this standard?
Mr Newlan —No. They can tell how many standards have been sold—although even getting that information is difficult. But it might be possible to be able to provide that information.
CHAIR —So it is necessarily going to be anecdotal?
Mr Newlan —Yes.
CHAIR —Your anecdotal view would be that it is a standard that is being made use of?
Mr Newlan —By some corporations. I cannot say whether that is 15, 20, 30 or 300. But when I go to see my clients, a lot of them are aware of the standard and, in fact, the governance standard suite of the five standards. A lot of them will say, ‘Yes, we have adopted specifically AS 8004 and we have in place a whistleblower protection program’ or, ‘We have put in place a whistleblower protection program without reference to AS 8004’ or, ‘We have put in place just an alternative reporting mechanism without a program in place.’
CHAIR —In the submission from your organisation, you have suggested that effective legislation for protecting public interest disclosure should take a national approach and that there should be consideration of removal of the complexities created by present state legislation. Are you able to expand on what you mean by, ‘a complexity is created by the present state legislation’?
Mr Newlan —This does not apply just to whistleblower protection; this applies to a whole range of issues right across government where a lot of legislation is very fragmented around the country. This is something that may not be achieved in our lifetime—to get that general approach to legislation across the country. I guess the legislation that you are looking at is for Commonwealth departments specifically. Each state will say, ‘Well, in our jurisdiction we will take care of that particular issue; we do not need the Commonwealth involved in that.’ So we are just really saying that as a general principle we like the idea of a national approach to a lot of issues that we get involved in and pass comment on.
CHAIR —The final matter emerging from the submission that I want to ask about is that your submission is to the effect that the Australian Institute of Professional Investigators, your organisation, would prefer a private agency, as opposed to another government integrity agency, to be the alternative reporting mechanism in any process that is developed. Are you able to explain why you have adopted that position?
Mr Newlan —We think anything that encourages people to come forward and raise concerns through alternative reporting mechanisms is valuable. My experience has been that to have an internal reporting mechanism is not as effective as having an external reporting mechanism. People tend not to trust internal reporting mechanisms. One particularly good example that I can refer to is where an internal reporting hotline was used for a large public company and very few calls were received on that. When they installed an external reporting system, all of a sudden the information started flowing. So people tend not to trust internal reporting mechanisms as much; they are happier to go outside of the organisation. They feel that their anonymity will be protected more by doing that than by going internal.
It may be that having a different government agency receiving the calls might help. But you might still get some public sector people in the Commonwealth distrusting being asked to go to another agency within the Commonwealth government sector. They might be more inclined to go outside that to an external agency. There are a number of firms who are offering that service, as I have said—my own organisation being one of them.
CHAIR —Can you give other examples of potential private external agencies?
Mr Newlan —I can probably rattle off four or five that are providing that service as external mechanisms for reporting of whistleblower information. The way that works, and it is very consistent across those organisations that do provide that, is that the information comes to the organisation and the information is filtered, and very little screening goes into that. We then refer that back through to our client with, naturally, caveats right across it saying: ‘We have not tested the veracity of this information; this is what we have been told. You should not act on this unless you have done further investigation.’ That is fundamentally the way it works.
Mr GEORGIOU —Can you spell that out? How do people know that if they have got a problem—
Mr Newlan —It is advertised internally within the company—we are typically talking about the private sector—and that will be communicated in a variety of ways. Sometimes people are given a card saying, ‘If you have a concern—‘ and, really, going external to the organisation should be communicated on the basis of: ‘This is your last resort. The organisation would actually prefer you to go through the normal chain of command. If you do not feel that that would be successful or you have tried that and it has not worked in the past, you can go external to the organisation by calling this number or by getting onto this website or by sending an email to this secure address.’
Mr SLIPPER —What has been the practice in other jurisdictions, in other countries, with respect to external reporting or reporting to another government agency?
Mr Newlan —That I do not know; I am sorry, I cannot say. AJ Brown would know, and I believe he is a witness before the committee. He would know that answer very well.
CHAIR —Mr Newlan, you will be pleased to hear that we are conducting a roundtable in Canberra on 9 September with AJ Brown and a number of people who have been involved in the whistleblowing project that has been conducted out of Griffith University over the last three years.
Mr Newlan —Yes. That has been very extensive research, and I know AJ has looked at a lot of work that has been done in the UK. I think that would provide the answer to the questions that you are referring to there.
Mr GEORGIOU —Can you develop your notion about a complementary external model for a private agency for the government? How would that happen? Can you sketch that out?
Mr Newlan —That would be for the agency. If they had their own discretion to engage their own provider of the service, they would presumably issue an RFT. The people who can provide that service would make a bid and then that external agency would be the alternative reporting mechanism for people within that agency to report concerns external to the agency. But, again, we do stress—this is actually stressed in AS 8004—that external reporting to an external private sector agency or company is really the last resort. When all else fails, this is what you can do to make sure that you are heard.
Mr GEORGIOU —But essentially you operate as a post box: they ring you and you say, ‘By the way, somebody says you have got a problem, check it out.’
Mr Newlan —That is right.
Mr GEORGIOU —Why does that breed any more confidence than the internal mechanisms?
Mr Newlan —Sometimes people do not trust the internal mechanism because they do not believe the company when the company says, ‘We will not trace your call; we will not try to find out who you are.’ In the past, when we have received an anonymous call and I pass that information on and say, ‘The caller has decided to remain anonymous,’ I have had clients who will entreat me to try to find out who it was, even though the person wished to remain anonymous. We say, ‘That is not part of our arrangement with you.’ We must guarantee anonymity for anybody who does call, because that is the whole integrity of the system.
Mr GEORGIOU —Thank you.
CHAIR —Have you got procedures that assist you to mask the identity of someone, which might include altering something about the information that has been provided in order to ensure that the anonymity is preserved?
Mr Newlan —This is just what McGrathNicol does in terms of reporting to our own clients. If a caller wishes to remain anonymous, we do not refer to ‘him’ or ‘her’, or ‘he’ or ‘she’; we use ‘the caller’: ‘the caller has said,’ for example. If we believe that the caller is attached to a very small business unit where it would be possible for the person to be identified by a process of elimination, then we will do whatever we need to do to try and safeguard that. But what quite often happens when we are receiving calls from clients on this service is that they wish to remain anonymous for a brief period and then they will quite often open up and say, ‘I’ll tell you who I am because it’ll come out anyway.’ I might add also that a lot of the calls we receive on that service—and I know a lot of the other providers in that area get such calls—are very minor calls relative to the organisation but, to the person who is actually making that call, it is actually a very serious matter. They do not have the same calibration of the level of seriousness. But the issue there is to report all information through. So we do not screen information and say, ‘Here is one that’s just too minor—we won’t even bother reporting it through.’ We report all information through to our clients.
CHAIR —Good. Anyone else?
Ms NEAL —I would just like to have a look at the code that you recommend. One of the bases for reportable conduct is unethical behaviour. How do you investigate and determine whether it is unethical? Some people may think that if someone rings up and wants to make an appointment and the person says, ‘I’m sorry, I’ve already got another appointment,’ but in fact they do not, that that is unethical.
Mr Newlan —Certainly, it is a lie—but is it unethical or not? Yes.
Ms NEAL —If that is a reportable matter, who determines that?
Mr Newlan —The company. So if you are offering a whistleblower protection service and an alternative reporting mechanism, you do not make that judgement. We are passing information back to the organisation concerned. They are conducting, as I say, a preliminary investigation to test the veracity and the validity of the information that has been provided, as if they had received it themselves.
Ms NEAL —I understand that. But how do they actually make that judgement? There is not a list of things—‘That is ethical,’ ‘That is not ethical.’
Mr Newlan —If the organisation had a code of conduct then that should be defined in the code of conduct.
Ms NEAL —So it is only what is in breach of the code of conduct?
Mr Newlan —That is right. That would be your definition. And that is why the code of conduct would necessarily be linked in to the whistleblower protection.
Ms NEAL —The standard says:
... either representing a breach of the entity’s code of conduct, or generally ...
Mr Newlan —Yes. I guess we are really saying there that if the organisation does not have a code of conduct—and a lot of organisations do not—then you have a difficulty in making a determination as to whether something does breach the organisation’s ethical values or not.
Mr NEUMANN —You mentioned that you are more familiar with the Victorian legislation than the other legislation.
Mr Newlan —Yes.
Mr NEUMANN —But when you look at the other legislation you are struck by the fact that the parliamentary draftsmen do not seem to have consulted with one another too frequently or that politicians are partly to blame—one or the other or both. Are you able to comment about the Victorian legislation—on what you would like to see in the national approach, and/or the weakness of the Victorian legislation compared to the other states?
Mr Newlan —There is one element of the Victorian legislation that I think is not desirable and the AIPI would say is not desirable, and that is the involvement of the Ombudsman in every complaint that is made under the act. The way it works in Victoria is that every complaint, no matter how large or small, must go to the Ombudsman before it is referred back to the agency for further investigation. We think that is fairly cumbersome. I do not know how well it operates in practice; I have not got any direct information from the Ombudsman about that. But it does seem to me—and I know that the departments in Victoria are saying—that that is fairly cumbersome. Everything is referred through to the department as a protected disclosure. It must be reported through to the Ombudsman, who then oversees the conduct of the investigation from that moment on and actually hands it back to the department for investigation.
Mr SLIPPER —Is there an adequate culture in the public sector to welcome disclosures from whistleblowers, or do you think that there is still a level of resentment at a high level in some departments which would tend to discourage people from being whistleblowers?
Mr Newlan —I really could not offer a comment from my own knowledge on that. I would just be making reference to what I have read in the press about it. But I would not be surprised if that were the culture within the government sector.
Mr GEORGIOU —You have been handling these reports. What has been the outcome? Have you caught criminals—sorry; has the outcome been that someone has been caught, charged, fired?
Mr Newlan —Yes.
Mr GEORGIOU —Could you give us some examples?
Mr Newlan —Probably the best example I could raise involves theft of inventory that was valued in excess of $2 million. That had been going on for a period of about two years, but had not come to the attention of management because of the lack of an external reporting mechanism. One month after the whistleblower line was installed, the first call came through saying that certain staff within the distribution centre were stealing product on the night shift, were distributing that product themselves and had been doing so for two years. The loss was calculated to be worth about $42,000 per month. Without that reporting mechanism in place that matter would have continued on for some period of time. That is probably the best example that I have but there are many others where there have been significant losses of inventory, corruption and improper relationships. You can sometimes dismiss anonymous information and say, ‘Well, there is probably nothing in it; they are probably making that complaint for all the wrong reasons,’ but so often it is very valuable information that is, in fact, true.
Mr GEORGIOU —What is an improper relationship?
Mr Newlan —It is the improper relationship between a customer and a supplier, either because they have an interest in the business or there is a personal relationship, and that can result in financial loss to the employer. So it is essentially a conflict of interest.
Ms GEORGE —Sleeping around?
Mr Newlan —That could be it; yes.
CHAIR —I have to call evidence from Mr Newlan to a close. I very much thank you, Mr Newlan and your organisation, the Australian Institute of Professional Investigators, for preparing the submission and for coming here today and sharing your very clear experience in this area with the committee. It has been a very helpful start as the first witness for the inquiry. Thank you very much.