ASIC pushes for improved whistleblower process

The regulator is throwing its weight behind a research project that seeks to improve whistleblowing procedures, as it looks to “honour” the nearly 10,000 pieces of information about wrongdoing it gets annually.

ASIC has written to more than 30,000 Australian companies encouraging them to take part in academic research focused on improving whistleblowing procedures.

The corporate regulator is one of 22 organisations backing the Australian Research Council project titled Whistling While They Work 2, which is aimed at improving managerial responses to whistleblowers in Australian public and private organisations.

ASIC senior executive leader Warren Day, who also heads the regulator's Office of the Whistleblower, helped launch the Australian Research Council project yesterday.

He said ASIC receives between 9,000 and 10,000 pieces of information from the public about wrongdoing each year.

"The nature of our responsibilities at ASIC and how important whistleblowing activity can be in bringing misconduct to light is obvious," Mr Day said at the launch.

"We believe it's important to have evidence-based research in this area. We're a proud sponsor and participant in this project," he said.

Mr Day was quick to point out that the project is not an "ASIC-only" endeavour.

"There are a number of partners and ASIC is just one. However, we see it as a very important project, and to that end we have written to over 30,000 Australian public and large private limited companies in the last week encouraging them to complete the survey, and themselves become participants in the research project."

The role of the Office of the Whistleblower – which was established 18 months ago in the wake of the Senate inquiry into the performance of ASIC – is to liaise with the people who provide information to ASIC and keep them informed of their issue's progress and outcome, Mr Day said.

ASIC divides people who approach it with information about potential wrongdoing into three categories – those who are still in the organisation they are providing information about, those who are no longer in the organisation but have valuable information and those who "call themselves a whistleblower but may not meet the definition".

"We honour all of those people and we want to speak to all of those people. So we track them accordingly," Mr Day said.

The number of reports of misconduct to ASIC spiked after the Senate inquiry into the corporate regulator's performance, but the volume is beginning to level out now.

"At any one time we've probably got about 50 to 70 matters with someone who fits one of those three criteria," Mr Day said.

However, the number of issues raised by the public that have led to full-blown investigations are in the single digits, he said.

Asked whether be believed Australia's large financial institutions currently have appropriate protections in place for whistleblowers, Mr Day said 'protections' can be a difficult word.

"Those procedures are in place in the large institutions. It's just a question really I think about are they honouring that information and we're just working our way through and seeing how that is," he said.

"That said, it's very clear that the financial institutions themselves are giving strong thought to that themselves, because these issues are very much in play in the public eye and I think you can see that they're trying to respond to that.

"This is an extension of the cultures discussion that [ASIC is] running. It's not the be all and end all, but it is a strong component of the culture in an organisation," Mr Day said.

The project is supported by ASIC, CPA Australia, the Governance Institute of Australia, the Australian Institute of Company Directors, Transparency International Australia and the Commonwealth Ombudsman, among others.

The launch of the project coincides with the release of a Senate Economics References Committee issues paper on corporate whistleblowing.

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