The federal government has recently introduced broader protection for whistleblowers who report misconduct in the corporate, tax and financial sectors. All public companies and large proprietary companies should now be updating their Whistleblower Policy and providing training for employees in relation to the new regime.
Status of the Bill
On 19 February 2019, the federal government passed the Treasury Laws Amendment (Enhancing Whistleblower Protections) Bill 2018 (the Bill). The reforms are expected to come into effect (pending Royal Assent) by 1 July 2019.
Overview of the Changes
The major aims of the Bill include:
Extending the corporate whistleblower protection regime by making changes to the Corporations Act 2001 (‘Corporations Act’); and
Introducing new protections for tax whistleblowers under the Taxation Administration Act 1953 (‘TAA’).
The changes to the Corporations Act will do the following:
Make it easier for a whistleblower to seek redress for detriment or damage that is caused as a result of a disclosure;
Extend whistleblower protection to anonymous disclosures;
Make it an offence to disclose a whistleblower’s identity without the whistleblower’s consent; and
Mandate that all public companies and large proprietary companies have a Whistleblower Policy that complies with the new requirements.
The changes to the TAA will achieve the following:
Introduce protection for individuals who report actual or suspected breaches of taxation law or misconduct in relation to an entity’s tax affairs; and
Specify that protected disclosures can be made to a person who is in a position to investigate the alleged misconduct such as: the ATO, an entity’s tax agent, or a senior person within the relevant entity.
Do You Have a Compliant Whistleblower Policy?
Under the new regime, all public companies and large proprietary companies must have a Whistleblower Policy that meets the new requirements. Failure to comply is a criminal offence and may result in significant penalties.
Your policy must contain information about:
the protections available to whistleblowers, including the protections available under the legislation;
how and to whom an individual can make a disclosure;
how your company will support whistleblowers and protect them from detriment;
how your company will investigate disclosures that qualify for protection under the legislation;
how your company will ensure fair treatment of employees who are mentioned in whistleblower disclosures, and
how the policy will be made available to officers and employees of your company.
What Employers Should Do
Employers should be reviewing and updating their existing Whistleblower Policy or introducing a Whistleblower Policy (particularly if it is required to have a policy under the reforms). We also recommend that you consider training your employees, senior managers and corporate officers in relation to the new whistleblower protection regime.