12 September 2023

Joint Media Release: Civil society, journalists, unions, lawyers and ex-judges call for an end to whistleblower prosecutions 

More than 70 organisations and individuals have signed a letter to the Australian government, published in newspapers today, calling for an end to the prosecution of whistleblowers and for urgent whistleblower protection reform.

In November, David McBride – who helped expose war crimes in Afghanistan by leaking documents to the ABC – will face trial in the ACT Supreme Court. McBride will be the first person to face trial in relation to war crimes in Afghanistan – the whistleblower, not an alleged war criminal.

Next year Richard Boyle, who blew the whistle on unethical debt recovery practices at the tax office, will face trial in Adelaide. Earlier this year Boyle’s defence under Australia’s broken whistleblowing laws was unsuccessful – the judgment is currently on appeal.

The Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus KC, has the executive power under the Judiciary Act to discontinue prosecutions. He exercised that power last year to end the unjust case against whistleblower Bernard Collaery.

In the open letter, which was published in The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Canberra Times and The Australian Financial Review, the signatories underscore the important role that whistleblowers and journalists play in exposing injustice.

Signatories included dozens of leading civil society organisations, unions the Community and Public Sector Union and the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, distinguished journalists, lawyers, retired judges, former whistleblowers and more.

Peter Greste, Chair, Alliance for Journalists’ Freedom, said: 
“The media is the whistle of last resort – you cannot have press freedom without protection for sources. David McBride and Richard Boyle both contributed to transparency and accountability around grave wrongdoing. If the prosecutions go ahead, it will have a devastating chilling effect on others thinking of blowing the whistle.”

Rawan Arraf, Executive Director, Australian Centre for International Justice, said: 
“Accountability for Australia’s war crimes in Afghanistan is hindered by the ongoing prosecution of a whistleblower who helped expose those war crimes. It is deeply problematic that the first person on trial in relation to those war crimes is the whistleblower.”

Rex Patrick, Former Senator, said: 
“People are unlikely to engage in wrong doing if they know the person sitting beside them, or in the adjoining cubicle, or in the room next door might blow the whistle on them. Right now, this deterrence doesn’t exist in work places because people know our whistleblower protection laws are inadequate and they can see the Government actually prosecuting whistleblowers.

“Blowing the whistle is already difficult. These prosecutions smash all confidence in coming forward and that’s a completely unacceptable situation. The Attorney-General has the power to end these Coalition-era whistleblowers prosecutions.”

Caitlin Reiger, Chief Executive Officer, Human Rights Law Centre, said: 
“Whistleblowers make Australia a better place. They should be protected, not punished. An end to the prosecution of whistleblowers, comprehensive reform and the establishment of a whistleblower protection authority must be key priorities for the Albanese Government.”

Daniela Gavshon, Australia Director, Human Rights Watch, said: 
“Australia’s human rights reputation is undermined when those who expose wrongdoing, not the wrongdoers, are the ones on trial. As Australia continues to silence whistleblowers, this continues to have a chilling effect on freedom of expression. The world is watching.”

Ed Santow, Former Australian Human Rights Commissioner, said: 
“Whistleblowers and journalists risk their safety to reveal important truths. Australians’ human rights depend on the transparency and accountability that they enable.”

Clancy Moore, Chief Executive Officer, Transparency International Australia, said: 
“The government campaigned on a commitment to transparency and integrity which was demonstrated through the establishment of the National Anti-Corruption Commission, whistleblower protection reform and more. But these prosecutions significantly undermine the good work being done and silence other brave Australians considering blowing the whistle on corruption and wrongdoing.”

The Hon. Anthony Whealy KC – Former Judge, Supreme Court of NSW Court of Appeal, said: 
“Integrity is at the heart of our system of justice and democracy. Prosecuting those who speak up about government wrongdoing undermines that integrity.”

Toni Hoffman AM, Former Queensland Health Whistleblower, said: 
“When I spoke up about wrongdoing about patient safety at Bundaberg Hospital, I would have never imagined facing prosecution. Unless these cases are ended, prospective whistleblowers will fear the huge risk of speaking up. Australia will be less safe as a result.”

Kerry O’Brien, Journalist, said: 
“Journalists cannot do their jobs, telling uncomfortable truths and keeping the powerful honest without whistleblowers, whose own lives have often been destroyed without protection. There is no public interest in prosecuting truth-tellers.”

Hadi Marifat, Director and Co-Founder, Afghanistan Human Rights and Democracy Organization, said: 
“Australia must ensure accountability and redress for war crimes committed by its forces in Afghanistan. David McBride’s truth-telling has been vindicated by the Brereton Report. And yet his prosecution continues.”

Bill Browne, Director of the Democracy & Accountability Program, The Australia Institute said:
“Australia Institute polling has consistently found that the Australian public recognise the vital importance of whistleblowers to our democracy. Australians do not want whistleblowers on trial for speaking up about wrongdoing.”

Media contact:
Thomas Feng, Media and Communications Manager, 0431 285 275, thomas.feng@hrlc.org.au

Image Credit: Human Rights Law Centre

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