ASIC today published a report to help entities improve their arrangements for handling whistleblower disclosures, and ensure they are effective and encourage people to speak up.
The report (REP 758) sets out the good practices ASIC observed from its review of seven entities’ whistleblower programs from a cross-section of industries. ASIC found that programs with thoughtful and well-publicised arrangements for protecting whistleblowers and handling disclosures received useful reports and tip offs about concerns and issues in the workplace. As a result, those entities had greater opportunity to identify and address these concerns and issues at an early stage.
ASIC Commissioner Danielle Press said, ‘Whistleblowing is a key part of a transparent, accountable and safe work culture. Whistleblowers need to know that, when they have reasonable grounds to suspect misconduct or an improper situation involving a firm, they can raise the issue without being victimised.’
‘ASIC’s report reiterates the important role that whistleblower programs play in alerting entities and boards to changes necessary to help improve overall corporate performance and governance,’ concluded Ms Press.
ASIC strongly encourages entities to consider how to scale and tailor the good practices in the report to suit their operations.
ASIC will continue to review entities’ whistleblower policies and arrangements for handling whistleblower disclosures, including when we receive reports from whistleblowers alleging breaches of the whistleblower protections. Where serious harm is identified, ASIC will consider the full range of regulatory tools available including, where appropriate, civil, or criminal enforcement action. ASIC recently filed proceedings against TerraCom Limited for alleged whistleblower victimisation (23-045MR).
ASIC reminds entities that they are obliged to handle whistleblower disclosures confidentially and protect whistleblowers from detriment.
Report 758 Good practices for handling whistleblower disclosures
All companies in Australia must comply with the whistleblower protection provisions in Part 9.4AAA of the Corporations Act 2001 (Corporations Act). The Corporations Act provides strong protections for corporate sector whistleblowers to encourage them to come forward with their concerns.
Since 1 January 2020, the Corporations Act has required public companies, large proprietary companies, and trustees of registrable superannuation entities to have a whistleblower policy that sets out matters and to make that policy available to its officers and employees.
In November 2019, ASIC released Regulatory Guide 270 Whistleblower policies which contains guidance and good practice tips on establishing and implementing a whistleblower policy and program. Further, in June 2020, ASIC released Information Sheet 247 Company officer obligations under the whistleblower protection provisions which summarises the obligations of company officers and senior managers under the whistleblower provisions.
During 2020, ASIC selected and reviewed a sample of 102 whistleblower policies from entities that are subject to the requirement to have a whistleblower policy. ASIC conducted this review to improve its understanding of how entities are responding to the requirements and found that many policies fell short. In October 2021, ASIC published an open letter to CEOs (21-267MR) urging entities to improve their whistleblower policies.