Richard Boyle must not be victimised for exposing ATO abuses

Photo by Lincoln Rothall/ABC News: Richard Boyle

Contributed by Joe Montero

Richard Boyle used to work in the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). He became concerned over aggressive mistreatment, not of highflyers and corporate large scale tax evaders, but of small players, including struggling small businesses. Convinced he had a moral duty to do something about the abuse, involving heavy handed debt collection tactics. He reported these abuses to his superiors who dismissed them and did nothing. Those with control in the ATO proved to be the problem.

Richard decided to become a whistleblower and go public and in April 2018 he appeared on a Four Corners program.

Although the disclosures triggered a series of investigation that led to some changes in the ATO, he was the one arrested and charge under the Public Interest Disclosure Act. This Act makes it illegal for anyone working for the public sector to copy and disclose information.

Last Friday the South Australian Court of Appeal judge rejected his appeal against a prior judge’s ruling that Boyle must face trial. His lawyer argued that the Public Interest Disclosure Act countered the act under which the original charge had been made. Despite the judge recognising that Boyle is a “whistleblower as that term is commonly understood,” he denied that this second Act provided protection and refused to overturn the prior judge’s decision.

This case has underscored the weakness of whistleblower legal protection in Australia. This runs way behind the changed community view, where it is recognised that the benefit to society far outweighs the braking of rules on paper. The Boyle case is a good example of this.

But instead of being congratulated, Richard Boyle faces years of imprisonment. This sends out the signal that wrongdoers will be protected and that those who expose them will be punished.

Boyle’s criminal trial is set for September. In the meantime, his legal team have the option of a further appeal in the Supreme Court against the charge being heard. If he loses this appeal, he will face a series of related charges.

Photo by David Mariuz

Richard Boyle’s wife, Louise Beaston, has pleaded to Australia’s Prime Minister and Attorney General to lo at the case and change the inadequate whistleblower protection law.

“I cannot put into words the impact this has had on Richard, and our wider family,” she told the two of them in a letter.

“Every day we face the burden of this prosecution. It has cost us about a quarter of a million dollars in legal fees. Our health is undermined every day this prosecution continues.”

“Richard has fallen victim to Australia’s broken whistleblower laws – laws which your government admits are not working.”

The failure of whistleblower protection recently led to 6 years imprisonment of David McBride, for exposing the murder of civilians by members of the Australian Defence Forces in Afghanistan.  Richard Boyle could be the next victim. Those who commit the real crimes will continue to be protected for as long as this situation remains. The unjust persecution of whistleblowers will continue, and Australian society will continue to pay a price. This is why the call for proper whistleblower protection is so important.

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