23 June 2017
Transcript - #2017013, 2017

Interview with Luke Grant, 2GB

Subject: whistleblowers

LUKE GRANT:

Joining me on the line, Minister for Revenue and Financial Services, Kelly O’Dwyer, who’s back today, I think, from maternity leave. Is that right, Minister?

KELLY O’DWYER:

That’s right, Luke. That’s right, although my husband jokes that it feels like I haven’t really had that much time off because I’ve been doing Cabinet meetings and a variety of other meetings, but I’m officially back today.

LUKE GRANT:

Well welcome back to work, we’ve missed you.

KELLY O’DWYER:

It’s good to be back and you’re my very first person that I’m speaking with!

LUKE GRANT:

What an honour!

KELLY O’DWYER:

It’s terrific. I kicked it off today with a speech about the importance of protecting those people who do the right thing and they speak up and they challenge, whether it’s the organisation that they work for or it might be a government department, they blow the whistle on corporate misconduct or tax misconduct. We have to make sure that we protect these people because at the end of the day, as you quite rightly point out, Luke, they are absolutely critical to ensuring that we have the right sort of structure in place that means that people do the right thing.

LUKE GRANT:

Yeah. Because we want people to do the right thing and even though they mightn’t wear a uniform, be a cop on the beat. I reckon collectively, if businesses, government agencies, if those who have access to large funds or whatever it might be, great influence, if they know that it’s not necessarily a warrant at the door but the ability for good decent people to do what I think good decent people should do, and that is dob on the cheats, if they know that’s out there and there’s some kind of structure in place, it might help everyone in every area.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well indeed it does and this is the thing – so many people who have come forward, and we’ve seen examples more recently with the case of Jeff Morris, who is probably one of the better known recent whistleblowers, who blew the whistle on a financial planning arm of one of the big major banks, exposed the bank’s misconduct and it took a very serious toll on him, not just professionally but also personally, and so many whistleblowers can lose friends, colleagues, their family, their careers, and it can lead to not just financial hardship, but mental breakdown and other problems. We have to make sure that those people who are coming forward, their anonymity needs to be protected, we need to make sure that they are not worse off if they choose to stand up, that they are not vilified by virtue of blowing the whistle on bad misconduct. And the thing that really surprised me, more than anything else coming into this particular role, is that while we do have laws at the moment which aren’t strong enough and which I’m going to strengthen around the corporate whistleblower regime, we really haven’t had statutory protections for tax whistleblowers.

LUKE GRANT:

Good on you, good on you.

KELLY O’DWYER:

I mean this is extremely concerning that people who are blowing the whistle on tax fraud or evasion or avoidance have not had protections. Now we are putting that in place because it is critical.

LUKE GRANT:

It’s great stuff. Tell me about this bounty-style reward that’s being spoken about. Have you looked closely at that yet?

KELLY O’DWYER:

We’re looking really carefully at this. I mean in the US there’s a system there under two different acts that they’ve got, the False Claims Act and the Dodd-Frank Act, that allow whistleblowers who blow the whistle to potentially receive a percentage of collected proceeds from successful court actions. The problem with this though is that while it can bring forward people to blow the whistle on very serious misconduct, it can also have a slightly odd flavour to it whereby there have been people who have been rewarded but have also been put in jail at the same time and that seems a little bit perverse to me. So we’re really carefully considering it, we know that there are similar discretionary reward systems in the UK and in Canada and we’re looking at how they work, they’re slightly different to the US. We’re looking at that at the moment but we’re absolutely committed to making sure there is appropriate compensation and whether that means a reward-style system or something slightly different, we’re working through that fine detail right now.

LUKE GRANT:

It’s fascinating, this. Final question, I guess there’s no way you can properly estimate the size of the cheat, if that’s the right word of describing it, but if we’re encourage people to dob in the cheats and we’re talking about significant debt and shortfalls and all this kind of thing. It would be amazing to see the influence of this kind of protection for whistleblowers, encouraging them to come forward, what the dollar payoff would be, it could be significant and that’s a bad thing obviously.

KELLY O’DWYER:

We think it will be significant not only directly in terms of potential revenue to come to the Commonwealth, but also particularly more generally for consumers, for investors, for employees, for the industry basically as a whole, this is important for all of us to make sure that we don’t have this misconduct going on within our system.

LUKE GRANT:

Yeah I agree entirely. Good to talk Kelly, look after yourself. Hope to see you soon.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Terrific, thank you.

LUKE GRANT:

Good on you, all the best.