Editorial: Blowing the whistle

19:34, Nov 29 2012

Kathryn Bolkovac, an American cop who served as a peacekeeper in post-war Bosnia and exposed the United Nation's role in covering up a scandal involving sexual slavery and human trafficking, was celebrated in a film, The Whistleblower. But blowing the whistle is risky. A Russian businessman who has been helping Swiss prosecutors uncover a powerful fraud syndicate involving the mafia has died this week in unexplained circumstances in Britain.

In this country, whistleblower Bronwyn Pullar became the subject of a police complaint after the ACC accused her of threatening to go public with personal details of more than 6000 claimants that were inadvertently emailed to her. The minister in charge of the ACC, Nick Smith, and other corporation heads resigned as a consequence of the embarrassing disclosures flushed into the open.

But where were the whistleblowers who might have sounded the alarm about serious health and safety shortcomings in the Pike River coal mine before the explosion that claimed 29 lives? That question has troubled the Chief Ombudsman, Dame Beverley Wakem. Her office is one place where people can go to lift the lid on wrongdoing and serious threats to safety. She says it would have recognised the gravity if a miner or contractor had called and sought protection and anonymity under the Protected Disclosures Act. Dame Beverley - who has called for a review of the legislation - wonders, too, why nobody blew the whistle from inside any failed finance companies. Few people (only nine in 2011-12) are taking advantage of the legislation's protective provisions.

One reason could be a lack of awareness of the legislation; another could be that the whistle must be blown inside the organisation where the wrong-doing is occurring to qualify for the law's protection.

But anonymity for complainants is not guaranteed under the act and no assurance is given that complaints will be investigated. More critically, the law doesn't cover whistleblowing to MPs or the media. Blowing the whistle takes courage. Whistleblowers might be admired by some for helping to remedy matters that need putting right but, regrettably, they risk being victimised by others. The law needs revisiting to tip the balance against excoriation.