Australian cases 1
This page considers Australian whistle-blowing cases,
of principles, practice and legislation.
It covers -
Harris and Qintex
Australian property, retail and broadcasting conglomerate
- fuelled by bank loans and its founder's ego - collapsed
in 1989 after Director Ted Harris alerted the national
companies regulator to concerns
that unauthorised payments of several million dollars
had been made to the chief executive's personal company.
Qintex features in Trevor Sykes' The Bold Riders:
Behind Australia's Corporate Collapses (North Sydney:
Allen & Unwin 1994).
Whistleblowing through disclosure of confidential internal
memoranda and correspondence from legal advisers revealed
that Partnership Pacific, a subsidiary of Australia's
second largest retail bank, had arguably misled some customers
and behaved improperly
The consequences of that impropriety included personal
bankruptcies and loss of family farms. Former Westpac
executive John McLennan faced substantial legal costs
(an Australian court ruled in favour of the bank regarding
copyright and confidentiality breaches); the damage to
the bank's reputation was intangible. It has been suggested
that perceived mishandling of public relations contributed
to the resignation of the Westpac CEO.
The bank incurred no government penalties but exposure
of the documentation in Parliament after suppression orders
initially prevented publication in the media appears to
have led to better treatment of some affected customers.
The Affair features in Edna Carew's Westpac: The Bank
that Broke the Bank (Sydney: Doubleday 1997), Quentin
Dempsters's Whistleblowers and Graham Hand's
Naked Among Cannibals: What Really Happens Inside
Australian Banks (St Leonards: Allen & Unwin
2001). Anne Lampe's 1997 ACIJ 'Westpac Letters' Symposium
offers a journalist's perspective.
and the Iraq war
Defence analyst Andrew Wilkie resigned in 2003 from the
Australian Office of National Assessments in conjunction
with criticism of use of intelligence reports during military
action against the Hussein regime in Iraq. He provides
an account in Axis of Deceit (Melbourne: Black
Resignation in front of the spotlights - ideally followed-up
by testimony to a parliamentary or judicial inquiry (and
a lucrative publishing contract to offset the end of a
career) - has attracted those whistleblowers who haven't
chosen to remain under cover by leaking documents to the
media or another party.
In April 2004 the Australian Competition & Consumer
Commission (ACCC) announced that over $35 million penalties
had been awarded against companies and senior executives
involved in the Australian power transformer and distribution
The litigation was initiated after email disclosures by
whistleblower, a former corporate executive in one of
the enterprises that contravened the Trade Practices Act
by engaging in price-fixing ring. Meetings to rig the
outcomes of contracts were held at exclusive hotels, Qantas
Club lounges and tourist resorts.
versus Oil Companies
The ACCC had less success with an investigation of alleged
impropriety in the Australian petrol industry, somewhat
ignominiously backing down after a high profile raid on
the corporate headquarters of several companies. The raid
formed part of an investigation triggered by a whistleblower
with access to sensitive information within one of the
In a 2003 speech (PDF)
ACCC chief executive Fels highlighted problems in commenting
the Commission placing advertisements in daily newspapers
in the hope of attracting the whistleblower's attention
and in an effort to gain greater information, the whistleblower
decided to go to the Daily Telegraph newspaper
in the belief that the Commission were not responding
to the claims. This was due to a lack of understanding
of the length and complexity of the investigative process
and the Commission's inability to keep the whistleblower
informed of the progress of the ongoing investigation.
The whistleblower's actions put pressure on the Commission
to act before fully investigating the matter. The Commission
entered a number of offices of major oil companies in
Melbourne and Sydney simultaneously and inspected and
copied documents. In approaching the media, the whistleblower
had forced the Commission to show its hand prematurely,
ultimately hampering the success of the investigation.
Ironically, the whistleblower's eagerness to highlight
the allegations contributed greatly to an inability
to proceed further with the investigation
is a positive view of ACCC handling of the case in Fred
Brenchley's Allan Fels: A Portrait of Power (Milton:
In 2005 the Federal Court imposed fines of $23.3 million
fixing by operators of BP, Shell, Ampol/Caltex, Swift,
Apco and Mobil outlets in the Ballarat area from 1999
to 2000. The whistle blower was independent petrol station
owner Trevor Oliver.
Former WD & HO Wills company secretary and legal counsel
Frederick Gulson alleged in 2003 that the Australian cigarette
group had sanitised files through destruction of sensitive
documents in managing health litigation.
Sanitisation is discussed here,
in a 2003 speech by the Victorian government Solicitor-General
and in Crown Counsel Peter Sallmann's 2004 report on Document
Destruction and Civil Litigation in Victoria.
and 'Shattered Windows'
Victoria Police officer Karl Konrad was ostracised by
colleagues and was sacked after alleging 'kick-back' payments
to police in 1995 for alerting window shutter companies
to vandalised windows.
Investigations in response to his claims resulted in 550
officers being charged with disciplinary offences: 107
resigned and 224 were demoted, transferred or fined.
Paul Barry's Rich Kids: How the Murdochs & Packers
lost $950 million in One.Tel (Milsons Point: Bantam
2002) highlights unsuccessful attempts by an insider at
the One.Tel telecommunications
group to point auditors in the right direction through
anonymous email messages. It has been suggested that problems
reflected a culture in which managers were under intense
pressure to "stretch" financial targets (and
to massage numbers within or outside the law) and where
bad news was either ignored or explicitly punished.
(Australian whistles 2)