Public servants receive support for blowing the whistle

By Shannon Jenkins

December 9, 2019

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Whistleblowers across Australia have been praised for speaking out against corruption in their government departments.

Firstly public servants have been lauded for coming forward in Western Australia, where the state public service has been rattled by allegations that the sacked Department of Communities assistant director-general Paul Whyte stole at least $25 million over the course of a decade, and possibly tens of millions more.

The department’s director-general, Michelle Andrews, has recognised the bravery of staff who helped out during the corruption investigation undertaken by the state police force and the Corruption and Crime Commission.

“There were some individuals who had the courage to come forward — to come forward to important institutions in government such as the CCC — and I want to acknowledge those heroes,” she said at the CEDA State of the State lunch last week.

Andrews said other public servants whose “names will never be known” had assisted her before the corruption allegations had been revealed publicly.

“Also in that process, before it became public there were a handful of public servants that had to help me who never thought that, beyond their daily efforts, there [were] other duties to the extent of what I had to ask them to do and they stepped up,” she said.

The scandal has prompted immediate reforms to the state public service.

Read more: How to restore public confidence in Commonwealth whistleblower protection

Meanwhile, a public servant in New South Wales has received the support of a local news publication for blowing the whistle.

Former senior manager in the NSW Department of Planning Rebecca Connor was fired last year after she repeatedly raised concerns of corruption related to unlawful mining lease approvals, including mining industry payments made by a contractor working for the department to help cover the costs of a staff farewell party.

She said she was suspended the day after she told her bosses she planned to use whistleblower protections to report a mining licence approval which she believed was corrupt. Months later, she was sacked for allegedly threatening a colleague in a meeting and failing to report a naked photo emailed by a male friend.

Following the incident, an independent review into the NSW government’s mining title processes found the government was at risk of fraud, corruption and conflicts of interest. However, there was no investigation into Connor’s specific reports, and no acknowledgement of her unfair treatment. She has now come out to say the department was “paying lip service to the issues I raised to appease bad media attention”.

The Newcastle Herald has described the state government’s behaviour as “extremely poor”.

“This is the typical weasel playbook of many bureaucracies who tend to sink into an unhelpful siege mentality when questioned on serious matters. Some, in fact, go into siege mode when questioned on anything that remotely suggests a problem,” it reported.

“These kinds of places must be difficult places to work, particularly for staff with any sense of decency, a moral sense of right and wrong and a belief in an honourable and principled public service.”

Whistleblowers in the public service have received increased media attention following the case of Australian Taxation Office whistleblower Richard Boyle, who currently faces prison after reporting abuses of power within the department last year.

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