Over the past few years, I've had occasion to meet (briefly) and speak or correspond with several Australian whistleblowers. I have enormous respect for their heroism which is only outdone by my concern for their welfare.
There was the kind gentleman who had blown the whistle decades ago on safety issues at ANSTO (the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor) only to find that both his employer and the union he had expected to back him to the hilt betrayed both himself as an individual and the public good. By the time I met David at the conference, he had long since lost his career and his family - a common fate of people in his position.
There was the brave but clearly heart-sick vet Lynn Simpson who became an industry pariah overnight after reporting on the conditions she found aboard live export vessels. When I heard Lynn speak she was going home to an uncertain future, like so many whistleblowers before and after, left to fend financially and legally for herself.
Many people would have read about other heroic whistleblowers including Former SAS Trooper Evan Donaldson (Resistance to Interrogation Training), the Commonwealth Bank's former employee Jeff Morris (corrupt banking practices) or police whistleblower Peter Fox (child sex abuse).
In case you haven't picked up a pattern here, all of these people are unable to work in their former industries, having been hounded out by the very structures that should have ensured their protection.
Compare this, if you will, with the New Jersey drug company executive who exposed fraud in the US federal Medicare program and received a multi million-dollar whistleblower reward. Under the US False Claims Act, whistleblowers who expose fraud in dealings between suppliers and government receive a share of the fines recovered by the government as a reward for bringing that action.
In a major breakthrough for Aussies who care about integrity, Bill Shorten has announced that when elected, Labor will establish a Whistleblower Protection Authority, harmonise existing whistleblower protections and set up a Whistleblower Rewards Scheme.
'The scheme will allow whistleblowers to receive a percentage of the penalties arising out of wrongdoing that they reveal.'
Industry research provides extensive evidence to back this approach: PricewaterhouseCoopers' (PWC) annual fraud survey found that whistleblowing is now occurring in every major company in the world, and in every government agency within the United States. PWC produces 'the most comprehensive world-wide' study of corporate fraud, interviewing over 7,000 CEO's, CFO's and CCO's in nearly every major global corporation.
Citing PWD extensively, Stephen Kohn's The Whistleblower's Handbook found:
'It was determined that whistle-blowers are the single most effective source of information in both detecting and rooting out corporate criminal activity...Whistleblowers who worked for free uncovered more fraud than even the paid professional corporate auditors and compliance officers... on a day to basis, whistleblowers detected and exposed more wrongdoing in the corporate world than every investigator and auditor working for every law enforcement and regulator agency combined.'
I come now to Richard Boyle, the latest heroic Australian to put their own fate on the line in order because of wrongs they could not ignore. Richard was recently charged with no less than 66 offences with a total of 161 years, he must take some kind of record for being targeted with the most vindictive prosecution of them all.
Did Richard rob the state of millions in tax he owed, commit bribery or threaten national security? No, he took the ATO to task for their wanton approach to removing money from the accounts of small business owners, some without their knowledge or consent! Do take some time to re-watch Four Corners stunning investigative report, Mongrel Bunch of Bastards to reacquaint yourself with the destructive practices Richard has come forward to shine the spotlight on.
The sheer vindictiveness of the ATO's response makes one wonder what dark deeds the government hopes will be silenced by this reprisal? Even by whistleblower standards, the ATO's behaviour feels more like the kind of warped nightmare common to a totalitarian regime than the measured response of a trusted government entity.
Even where no charges are laid against whistleblowers, most if not all whistleblowers not only their job in reprisal for their honesty but are black banned from the industry in which they work yet in case after case. They are left to fend for themselves without organised assistance.
I find this neglect particularly galling. The disconnect between the very strong public passion for justice and accountability and our ability to provide support to the whistleblowers who carry the financial, legal and social burden of reprisal and recrimination is the reason why so much corruption can occur in the first place.
It is now common to critique existing media and journalists for their spinelessness in holding the corrupt to account. But how many of us would burn our current employer, burn our future employment prospects and shoulder the consequences not just to our own finances but the impact on our families?
Individuals can only stand up against powerful interests if the rest of us have their backs. When a whistleblower stands up for the public good, they launch themselves backward into a void without knowing who will be there to catch them or where they will land.
Right now Richard Boyle is awaiting trial and attempting to plan a wedding to his partner, Louise Beaston, violinist with Amicus Strings. But there's a problem. Richard no longer has a job. Richard is facing a potential 161 years in jail. Richard is fighting a very powerful organisation, an organisation that has the power to reach into any of our bank accounts and take out whatever they decide is appropriate.
It is a cruel irony that the woman who has shared the joy of so many of the family weddings is now unable to marry her own fiancé, exchange vows, for better or for worse – because the worse is bearing down.
Australians have shown their generosity in recent days with the crowdfunding for the young man who egged Fraser Anning. I'm hoping we can find it in our hearts to reach out to Richard with some well-deserved support so that he can marry the woman he loves.
Despite Richard's terrifying situation, his trust in other Australians is still strong:
There are some very good people out there as you know Rosie. We are all playing our part. With everyone's help, I am going to be fine.
It's up to us to provide that help. Are you in? If so, I suggest a little wedding gift- a contribution to Richard and Louise's wedding fund. Give this brave couple something to look forward to and a demonstration that they are not alone in this David and Goliath battle.
Alternatively, please sign the petition to have the charges dropped. Perhaps the Attorney-General will come up with a gift of their own.