Human rights developments

Reform needed to better protect whistleblowers who reveal human rights abuses

9 March 2016

Whistleblowers who reveal human rights abuses face the risk of prosecution and jail and require much greater legal protection, said the Human Rights Law Centre in a submission to the review of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013 (Cth).  The Act is currently being reviewed by former Integrity Commissioner Philip Moss for the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Emily Howie, HRLC’s director of advocacy and research, said that the review is timely given a worrying trend of governments referring to the police whistleblowers and journalists who reveal wrongdoing, even if disclosure of that information is in the public interest.

“The Australian Government is using increasingly aggressive, punitive and intimidating tactics to silence people who speak out, particularly on immigration issues.” said Ms Howie. “Instead of shooting the messenger, the Government should focus to addressing the serious wrongdoing that the whistleblowers are exposing.”

The HRLC recommends that the Act be amended to better protect whistleblower disclosures that reveal human rights violations, or that would promote accountability for such violations. Ms Howie said a better balance is needed between confidentiality of sensitive government information and the public’s right to know about wrongdoing and ensure accountability for it.

“Whistleblowing is an important way to shine a spotlight on wrongdoing. Where secrecy flourishes, human rights abuses become more likely,” said Ms Howie. “Australians can thank past whistleblowers for exposing police misconduct, corruption, the medical malpractice of surgeons and the cruel treatment of asylum seekers in immigration detention.”

Save the Children staff are still under investigation and face prosecution and jail for revealing sexual assault and abuse of asylum seekers including children in the Australian-run detention centre on Nauru. The Government has also referred a whistleblower and a lawyer to the Federal Police over the disclosure of revelations that the Government spied on the East Timorese Government during oil and gas negotiations.

A copy of the Submission is available here.


Emily Howie, Director of Advocacy and Research, Human Rights Law Centre  ph: 0421 370 997