Report recommends better whistleblowing procedures

A report advising on best practice for whistleblowing procedures—including establishing new forms of oversight—is launched this week, just days after the State Services Commission published its public consultation on reforms to the Protected Disclosure Act.

A whistle

The report, titled Clean as a whistle: a five step guide to better whistleblowing policy and practice in business and government, is the result of a major three-year study that has already produced numerous other reports on the state of play in New Zealand and Australia. The study is one of the largest pieces of research on whistleblowing ever undertaken and the first of its kind to compare public, private and not-for-profit sectors.

The New Zealand component was led by Professor Michael Macaulay from the School of Government at Victoria University of Wellington, while the overall study was led by Professor A.J. Brown from Griffith University in Australia.

“The publication of our work could not be timelier for New Zealand,” says Professor Macaulay, “especially as the legislative reforms around the Protected Disclosure Act have been slightly delayed. The State Services Commission has made good progress on whistleblowing in the past few years with its ‘Speak Up’ standards and public consultation on the Act. I hope our report can add valuable insights to the discussion.”

Professor Macaulay says the report helps in a number of key respects. “Our work is practitioner focused, outlining clear, practical steps that can be used to improve processes across five key areas. More importantly, our report recognises that progress is needed not only at the organisational level, but also at the legislative and regulatory level.”

The report sets out five main steps for better policy and practice. The first three focus on lessons for the design and implementation of whistleblowing programmes by organisations—especially with respect to the critical challenges of making the right first responses to disclosures, creating a supportive environment for whistleblowing, and ensuring clear and effective roles and responsibilities.

However, organisational whistleblowing programmes will only be as good as the regulatory frameworks that support them, says Professor Macaulay. Steps four and five focus on key actions for policymakers, to achieve best practice regulatory arrangements, including ensuring public disclosure rights and media freedom continue to play their vital role in integrity and good governance.

“In terms of the Protected Disclosure Act reforms, what is needed is clarity and consistency so people know exactly what their protections are and when these can be accessed,” says Professor Macaulay. “But what is perhaps even more important for New Zealand is clear oversight. The current arrangements under the guidance of the Ombudsman and State Services Commission do well but our report argues for a fully resourced whistleblower protection authority to support reporters and organisations, including advice, support, coordination and enforcement roles.

“New Zealand is undergoing a number of other institutional conversations right now, not only in terms of protected disclosures but also other integrity areas such as anti-corruption.  There is plenty of scope for new forms of regulation and oversight that will enable better information gathering, policy co-ordination and training and development to be conducted.

“One of the aspects at play is the sheer range of different issues that are observed and reported on. Over the past three years, our research has shown what the most prevalent organisational issues are—bullying, harassment, behavioural problems—and in that sense our work confirms many other previous studies. Yet these are just some among many. A new oversight body would enable a co-ordinated approach and enhance the work of all current integrity agencies throughout New Zealand.”

The five steps are just some of the many recommendations contained in the research. “There is much to think about,” says Professor Macaulay, “but hopefully careful consideration of our work will only enhance New Zealand’s already excellent reputation as a high-trust, high-integrity nation. We are always able to improve and show global leadership in these fields.”