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Whistleblowers should be protected, not punished!


Whistleblowers play a vital role in exposing wrongdoing, holding power to account, and making Australia a better place.

But David McBride – a military whistleblower – has just been sentenced to over five years in prison.

McBride was prosecuted for helping ABC journalists expose war crimes committed by the Australian military in Afghanistan. It means the first person imprisoned in relation to these war crimes isn't a war criminal – but the person who helped expose them.

McBride isn't alone. Former ATO whistleblower Richard Boyle also faces trial for speaking out about misconduct.

The Federal Government has the power to intervene in these cases but – despite admitting the laws meant to protect whistleblowers are broken – has failed to act. Instead, they are continuing the Coalition's shameful legacy of prosecuting whistleblowers.

Enough is enough. We demand the Federal Government:

  1. Stop prosecuting Richard Boyle and pardon David McBride.
  2. Accelerate reform of our broken whistleblower protection laws.
  3. Establish a whistleblower protection authority.

Stop prosecuting whistleblowers!

 

 

David McBride has just been sentenced to years in jail for leaking documents to journalists that formed the basis of “The Afghan Files”, a 2017 ABC exposé. It revealed allegations of misconduct by Australian special forces in Afghanistan, including possible unlawful killings. McBride had earlier spoken up internally and to oversight bodies.

McBride is the first person jailed in relation to war crimes in Afghanistan.

Richard Boyle worked at the tax office when he witnessed aggressive debt collection powers being used unethically to target people in vulnerable situations.

Boyle spoke up internally, then to the Tax Ombudsman, and then to journalists as a last resort. Boyle lost his legal bid to be declared immune from prosecution in March 2023, and is currently waiting on a decision in his appeal. He is due face trial this year.

Both David McBride and Richard Boyle spoke up internally first, and then to oversight bodies. Both are alleged to have spoken to journalists as a last resort.

Under federal law, whistleblowers are permitted to blow the whistle to journalists or politicians in certain circumstances – either in emergency situations or when internal whistleblowing fails. McBride was forced to withdraw his whistleblowing defence after a national security intervention by the government last year.

Both cases underscore the risks faced by whistleblowers in going public and the need for stronger laws.

The Federal Labor Government was elected on a promise of restoring integrity. They have affirmed their commitment to press freedom and accountability by establishing the National Anti-Corruption Commission, convening a press freedom round table, and moving forward with reforms to whistleblower protections, surveillance laws, and secrecy offences. But they refused to intervene to stop David McBride facing prison and so far have refused to use those powers to drop the prosecution against whistleblower Richard Boyle.

By refusing to act, they have continued the Coalition Government's shameful legacy of spending millions prosecuting whistleblowers. It sends a chilling message to truth tellers around the country: speak out and face punishment.

Australia’s whistleblowing laws are broken. Our whistleblower laws should be designed to protect and empower whistleblowers, not send them to jail. With one whistleblower going to prison and another facing trial, its cold, hard proof the laws do not work. No successful judgment has ever been handed down for a whistleblower under our whistleblower protection laws.

Comprehensive reform is urgently needed, together with the establishment of a dedicated whistleblower protection authority to ensure that whistleblowers are protected, not punished.

The Federal Government is currently considering changes to our whistleblower protection laws. The Whistleblower Justice Fund made a submission to their consultation.

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