Monday, April 11, 2011

Then is this whistleblowing?

 This is a true story , with the names changed, It is used as a teaching vehicle in a university ethics class

Community Assistance (CA) is an Australian NGO with a longish history of helping individuals with personal problems to sort out their difficulties.  It is active throughout Australia except in Western Australia and the Northern Territory. Individual members worked by listening to the problems of people coming to them and providing advice. They also try to strengthen the main legislative acts designed to help those that they worked with.  A third aim was pushing relevant State and Commonwealth organisations to be more proactive in their assistance activities.

Some of the members felt that CA could be more effective if it made the general public as well as concerned legislators more aware of the problems their clients faced. They also needed to research ways to strengthen the legislation. They would do this through investigation of current problems , and making the information available through an expanded website; also by gathering and publishing information on the problems they had identified, and by giving public lectures. They needed money to fund these activities, and at the 2008 Annual General Meeting a motion was passed which authorised the proposing member to pursue/ investigate applications for grants.

It was not till late 2009 that this member identified a source of funding, through the philanthropic arm of a major international corporation. It required only an initial expression of interest (EOI). He advised the National Committee by email that he was starting work, and sent out several increasingly detailed drafts of the EOI.

Two members objected - the National Secretary and the designer of the current website. Their objections seemed to be primarily that the National Committee needed to see and approve the EOI.  The possible ways in which the money could be controlled were also issues. The deadline was fast approaching with no resolution. Those supporting funding finally put the proposal in on the deadline, under the 2008 AGM authorisation, arguing that the EOI was not an application. The application came only if the EOI passed scrutiny.

Hell broke loose. An increasingly confrontational series of emails followed, some of them personally abusive. The Secretary wrote several times to the funding agency, asking for a copy of the EOI, and implying that it had not been approved by the Committee.  The President objected, stating that this correspondence was unauthorised. The member who prepared the EOI objected to the implications on his honesty, and one member demanded that the secretary “be sacked”. Those members who tried to conciliate the issue were voices in the wilderness.  Phrases such as “head kicker”; members were “misled and deceived”; “we were tricked”; “it is your fault”; “”your outrageous claims (are) defamatory”, and demands on both sides for “an apology”; peppered the airwaves.

At a local meeting on 9 March 2010, the Secretary claimed that she had “blown the whistle”. When the question of wrongdoing was raised (included in a common definition of whistleblowing), she stated that the EOI was a submission, so the resolution of the 2008 AGM had been contravened.   The website designer also described her as a whistleblower, but working toward the good of the organisation. A universal agreement on whistleblowing is that to qualify for protection the whistleblower has to be acting in the public interest.

Question to Students

!. Was this whistleblowing?

Was it whistleblowing?

The eighteen year old female cadet at the Defence Force Academy secretly photographed having sex with a fellow cadet was clearly blowing the whistle when she complained about it to Channel 10. And Commodore Bruce Kafer, boss of the academy, who asked her to apologise to her class mates in her division, for she was “bringing the division into disrepute” was obviously retaliating against her for speaking out.  By attempting to shift responsibility from the wrongdoer to the wronged – he was putting the blame onto the young woman most damaged by the events. It seems incredible that the head of a major public institution could be unaware of the meaning of the word “retaliation’.

The most widely accepted definition of whistleblowing is “the disclosure by organisational members of Illegal, immoral, or illegitimate practices to persons or organisations able to effect action”.  Illegal, immoral or illegitimate practices are collectively described as wrongdoing. The Australian Federal Police are currently investigating whether the skyping of the sex acts to cadets in a nearby room negates her consent and therefore whether it can be treated as rape. Regardless of whether it is illegal or not, however, broadcasting the photos clearly is wrong, for the woman’s privacy has been savagely compromised. The near universal condemnation of the Academy’s actions, including the Minister for Defence, Stephen Smith, verifies the widely held belief that the Academy is in the wrong.

The Channel 10 exposure has resulted in fellow cadets calling the 18 year old to her face a “slut” a “dirty whore” and more. In asking her to apologise, the Commander was breaking well–established laws that exists in other major Western countries. These laws make retribution, or the failure to stop retribution, a criminal offence.  They are laws that do not exist in this country. They are laws that have been promised in the election manifesto of the Rudd government, by that government when in office, and now by the Gillard government. In early 2010 the government told us by next January. We are still waiting.

Stephen Smith would as well use his time and influence to ensure that this legislation is passed. Australia is the only major western country that does not have laws to protect its national whistleblowers. The story by Channel 10’s Hugh Riminton in the Australian on April 9, “Failed by the system: The cadet's true story.” and the headlines “Heads will Roll” in the Sun Herald, April 10 reported that the Commodore had instigated disciplinary proceedings against the cadet on a different matter. Commodore Kater is obviously unaware the retaliatory implications of his actions.And how lucky he is that the Australian government is so slow in attempting to strengthen the ethical practices of its agencies.

One day, hopefully not too far from now, Commodore Kater's actions will be illegal. One day, also hopefully not too far from now, the Defence Force will select for its senior managers, and most of all, those responsible for training this country’s senior military officers, people who have the ability to realise that they are have not correctly read the lie of the land , and have lead the entire army into trouble.