Contributed by Ben Wilson
Richard Boyle faces court in Adelaide today. He is a whistleblower who leaked damning information about how the Australian Taxation Office’s (ATO) heavy handed debt collection practices on small businesses and individuals. This contrasts with the soft approach to large corporate tax evaders.
Boyle had initially tried to get his concerns heard through an internal review process. But when the evidence he put forward was not taken seriously and dismissed, Boyle decided to go public. The story came to air on an ABC Four Corners investigation in April 2018.
The ATO had offered Boyle a pay out to go quietly. He refused to accept what could be called a bribe.
A separate review carried out by the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman (ASBFEO) on the same issue found that the behaviour was crippling small business. Nothing came of it.
An investigation by a Senate committee reviewing the documents Boyle provided to the Tax Commissioner and hearing testimony from witnesses, noted problems with the way the ATO investigates whistleblower complaints.
Richard Boyle has been charged offences that carry up to 161 years in prison for disclosing protected information, using a listening device, and recording another person’s tax file number. He has pleaded not guilty because he acted in the public interest. This is a major test case for the Public Interest Disclosure Act of 2013.
Although the Act provides some protect in for disclosures under a set of guidelines and on the condition or reasonable grounds, critics say it is woefully inadequate. The main problem is that disclosures are only deemed valid if they are made through the internal channels of the organisation in question. It is a toothless tiger, and it does nothing to protect whistleblowers acting because the internal channels do not work.
The Human Rights Law Centre this week called on Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus to drop the prosecution against Boyle. He has refused so far.
Whistleblowers, and especially, when wrongdoing by those with power seem to be on the rise, protect us by putting their necks out to tell us what we have a right to know. Australia needs them and they deserve protection.
A Whistelblower protection law should be brought in. It is the least we could do. In the meantime, the Australian government has a duty to stop persecutions of people like Richard Boyle.