Whistleblowing and suppression of dissent

Contacts: advice and support

Australia

Britain

Canada

Germany

New Zealand

South Africa

United States

 


This information is located on

Suppression of dissent website


Contacts: advice and support

It is a sad truth that whistleblowers and dissidents often seek help but seldom find it. Below are some avenues to seek support or official action. Official channels are unlikely to be helpful and whistleblowers should undertake a careful assessment of official bodies before using them. Therefore, these bodies (of which there are a multitude) are only described in general terms. The most useful thing that most whistleblowers can do is to talk to other whistleblowers and to gain publicity. Media contacts change quickly. Hence the emphasis in the following listing is on organisations and networks that help put whistleblowers in touch with each other.

No organisation listed here is guaranteed to be helpful. The fact is that some of the most worthwhile organisations are seriously overloaded and cannot respond effectively to every request. This is all the more reason to learn everything possible to tackle issues directly, without depending on someone else to save the day.

I thank all the organisations that provided information and especially thank Linda Jones, Susan Marais-Steinman, Christopher Merrett and Kate Schroder for valuable help and advice. This listing is adapted and updated from Brian Martin, The Whistleblower's Handbook: How to Be an Effective Resister (Charlbury: Jon Carpenter, 1999).

*** Australia ***

Whistleblowers Australia (WBA) is a national organisation whose members are whistleblowers and their supporters. It encourages self-help and mutual help among whistleblowers and supports campaigns on specific issues such as free speech for employees and whistleblower legislation. It does not undertake formal advocacy on behalf of individuals. WBA has branches or contacts in all states. Membership is open to anyone who supports its aims. It publishes a newsletter, The Whistle. This entry includes information about the organisation, contacts, copies of newsletters and current actions.

Dissent Network Australia: a list of people who are potentially willing to comment or take action against suppression of dissent.

Justice Action
Members are volunteers who "seek to uncover and expose police and penal abuse, misconduct and corruption and to promote reform and meaningful change. We seek to assist those who suffer from the abuses of the system."

Official channels
There is whistleblower legislation in all states and territories, but not federally. However, there is no known case of a whistleblower being helped by any of the whistleblower acts now on the books. An ombudsman is found in all states and federally. They vary in effectiveness, but all of them are heavily overloaded with far more complaints than they can investigate. Anticorruption bodies exist in several states, including the Independent Commission Against Corruption in New South Wales and the Crime & Misconduct Commission in Queensland. Many whistleblowers have reported dissatisfaction with these bodies and recommend against using them. Freedom of information legislation exists throughout the country. It can be expensive and time-consuming but sometimes is useful for obtaining documents and as a record of which documents about a case existed at a particular time, to counter attempts at fabrication. Auditor-general units and antidiscrimination bodies, which are found in every state and federally, sometimes can be helpful in cases falling under their jurisdiction. There are also some specialised bodies, such as the Police Integrity Commission which deals with corruption in the NSW Police.

*** Britain ***

Freedom to Care (FtC) was a national organisation founded by whistleblowers and run by them and their supporters. It promoted "the right and duty of employees to raise workplace concerns in the public interest and the right of all citizens to open, honest and accountable treatment from large organisations, public or private." It held self-help meetings, provided support to whistleblowers, campaigned on relevant issues, and published a bi-annual bulletin, The Whistle. Membership was open to anyone who supported its aims. FtC is no longer active but its website has been archived by the British Library. Choose the 14 June 2008 archive.

Public Concern at Work is a legal advice centre providing free advice to workers who are unsure whether or how to blow the whistle. It also advises on the scope and application of the UK's Public Interest Disclosure Act. It earns an increasing amount of its income from the training services and toolkits it provides to employers, unions and community groups on creating open cultures.


Official channels
There is whistleblower legislation in the form of the Public Interest Disclosure Act. However, it has so many holes that whistleblowers are given little protection. For example, the onus of proof is on whistleblowers to show that they have acted in good faith, and there is no official whistleblower agency. Other legislation that might be used by whistleblowers has similar problems. There is no ombudsman. There is no freedom of information legislation. A proposed bill has a very large number of exemptions, ensuring that it has limited effectiveness. Auditor-general units and antidiscrimination bodies could conceivably be helpful in cases falling under their jurisdiction, but they have little experience with whistleblower cases. There are a few specialist anticorruption bodies, such as parliamentary select committees; none is known for being effective.

*** Canada *** 

Canadians for Accountability, http://www.canadians4accountability.org/, is a national grassroots whistleblower group.

FAIR (Federal Accountability Initiative for Reform)
http://fairwhistleblower.ca/
FAIR's slogan is "Protecting whistleblowers who protect the public interest". FAIR "promotes integrity and accountability within government by empowering employees to speak out without fear of reprisal when they encounter wrongdoing. Our aim is to support legislation and management practices that will provide effective protection for whistleblowers and hence occupational free speech in the workplace."

Official channels
Federally, the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act was passed in 2005 and later amended. FAIR is a critic of this legislation, deeming it deeply flawed due to loopholes and unenthusiastic enforcement. There is also some provincial legislation.

An ombudsman is found in all provinces and federally. Also available are federal and provincial human rights commissions, freedom of information legislation and auditor-general units, as well as appeal bodies in more specific areas. Having no systematic information about their effectiveness, it is safe to assume that most of them are no more effective than official channels in other countries such as Australia and the US.

 

*** Germany *** 

Whistleblower-Netzwerk Germany
http://whistleblower-net.de/
was formed in about 2006 and has about 50 members, about half whistleblowers. It aims to combine helping individuals with pushing for better legislation.

*** New Zealand *** 


Official channels include whistleblower legislation, ombudsmen and appeal bodies in a variety of areas (such as banking, race relations conciliators, Health and Disability Commissioner, Police Complaints Authority), freedom of information legislation, auditor-general units and antidiscrimination bodies. Having no systematic information about their effectiveness, it is safe to assume that most of them are no more effective than official channels in other countries such as Australia and the US.

*** Norway ***

Ad:varsal is a whistleblower site run by Pål Hivand.

 

*** South Africa ***

Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) supports free speech and equal access to information.

Institute for Democracy in South Africa (IDASA) is an independent, nonprofit public interest organisation promoting democracy.

Black Sash is a human rights advocacy organisation, focussing on social security issues, offering free paralegal services at offices throughout the country.

Official channels
The national Protected Disclosure Act was passed in 2000. Critics say the law has many weaknesses.


*** United States ***

US whistleblowers should obtain the book The Whistleblower's Survival Guide: Courage Without Martyrdom by Tom Devine, available for download from http://fairwhistleblower.ca/books/books.html. This is an extremely valuable analysis of whistleblowing, and includes details on US official channels, summarised very briefly below.

Government Accountability Project (GAP) provides advocacy and legal assistance to whistleblowers. With a 16-person staff, it can provide advice and referrals. However, direct legal representation by GAP attorneys is only possible in a fraction of cases. GAP has developed special expertise in dealing with whistleblower rights, nuclear weapons facility clean-ups, food safety, laws on environmental protection, and national security abuses.

National Whistleblowers Center is a non-profit advocacy organisation based in Washington, DC, providing support for whistleblowers in court and before Congress.

Project on Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonprofit organisation that investigates government waste, fraud and abuse, including working with whistleblowers inside the system.
Address: 1900 L Street NW, Suite 314, Washington DC 20036

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a nonprofit organisation that supports employees in government environmental agencies who are seeking greater protection of the environment.

The Giraffe Heroes Project is a nonprofit organisation that moves people to stick their necks out for the common good and helps them do it better.

Whistleblower Support Center and Archive is a Washington-based non-profit group that provides resources and support for whistleblowers. Dr Don Soeken can offer expert advice to whistleblowers.

Official channels Hotlines to receive reports of fraud, waste or mismanagement are available in nearly every federal government department and agency. However, GAP says "hotlines are in most cases worthless at best": few reports are investigated and in many cases the whistleblower's confidentiality is violated. In the private sector, the equivalent of government hotlines are corporate voluntary disclosure programmes. They appear to work no better than hotlines. In the armed forces, service suggestion programmes provide rewards for employees who make suggestions that save money. However, the rewards are small and making suggestions can lead to reprisals. Most government agencies have an internal office responsible for investigating misconduct, usually called an inspector general (IG). Whistleblowers should be wary of IGs: often they cover up problems, doing damage control for management; sometimes they are corrupt themselves; and they may act to discredit and attack whistleblowers. The Office of the Special Counsel (OSC) is a formal channel for government whistleblowers to make disclosures. The OSC can refer charges to the agency in question to answer, but does this only rarely. GAP concludes that "an OSC whistleblowing disclosure is likely to be unproductive or even counterproductive--unless it is part of a larger strategy involving other institutions." One of the most promising avenues for redress is to sue under the False Claims Act. However, this can be highly expensive, open the whistleblower up to blacklisting and prevent speaking out for the duration of the case, often years.


revised 14 July 2011