New rules needed to support workplace whistleblowers

The Institute for Governance and Policy Studies is part of the world's largest research project into workplace whistleblowing, which is calling for a law change to support whistleblowers and protect them from a "mountain of negativity".

Michael Macaulay, director of Victoria University’s Institute for Governance and Policy Studies

Michael Macaulay, director of the Institute for Governance and Policy Studies

The leaders of one of the world’s largest research projects into workplace whistleblowing are calling for a law change to support whistleblowers and protect them from a "mountain of negativity".

Thousands of New Zealand and Australian private and public sector agencies will be approached in the trans-Tasman project, with expert advice from 15 organisations including Victoria University of Wellington.

A law change would counter the negativity that surrounds employee-reported wrongdoing and would improve corporate governance and public integrity, the researchers say.

Michael Macaulay, director of Victoria University’s Institute for Governance and Policy Studies, is the sole New Zealand academic involved in the three-year project.

"New Zealand has fairly comprehensive legislation for protected disclosures but we need to know more about people’s confidence in using them. Although information is fairly limited, what we know about the public sector suggests confidence may be low."

Associate Professor Macaulay says the research project, which began earlier this year, investigates ways to improve managerial responses to whistleblowing in public and private sector organisations.

The first phase of research has discovered a broad consensus that new laws and standards are needed to support workplace whistleblowing and realise its full benefits to companies and its employees.

Professor A.J. Brown from Queensland’s Griffith University, who publicly launched the project in Sydney last week, says robust whistleblowing procedures are a highly effective way to uncover wrongdoing or problems in the workplace, but there is currently a “mountain of negativity” especially around mistreatment of the whistleblowers.

He says such attitudes "risk missing some of the greatest opportunities for solving these issues. But like all organisations worldwide, they lack clear guidance on the tools and systems needed to encourage and protect whistleblowing in practice".

Associate Professor Macaulay says the next phase of the project is to investigate what those tools and systems might look like by surveying New Zealand and Australian public sector agencies and large proprietary companies.

"We're approaching thousands of New Zealand and Australian agencies from the public private and not-for-profit sectors to take part in a survey of organisational processes and procedures.

"This is the first comparative research project of its kind and the results will enable us to establish best practice guidelines around whistleblowing so organisations can capture the full benefits of what can be an extremely useful tool in the workplace," he says.

Professor Brown will give a free public lecture at Victoria University’s Pipitea campus on Wednesday 4 May to launch the project in New Zealand.

  • What: ‘Whistling While They Work 2’ project launch with Professor AJ Brown
  • When: 12.30-1.30pm, Wednesday 4 May
  • Where: Victoria University of Wellington, Rutherford House Lecture Theatre 1 (RHLT1)

Details about the ‘Whistling While They Work 2’ project and survey are available online.