Little protection? for whistleblowers

By LUIS FELIU

TWEED Shire Council staff giving evidence at the upcoming investigation of Council may not be protected against victimisation by their managers despite the request by Commissioner Maurice Daly.

That is the opinion of a whistleblower at another NSW council.

The head of the union representing local-government staff claims witnessprotection legislation in NSW did not protect him and six others who gave evidence at an Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) inquiry into Narrabri Council in the mid 1990s.

Acting general secretary of the United Services Union of NSW, Stephen Hughes, said he and his co-workers gave evidence about alleged corruption over the use of council resources, but they "all got nailed and didn't get protected at all" despite assur- ances they would.

"At my old council, a whole group of us were made redundant or terminated after we blew the whistle," Mr Hughes said.

"I was the initial one to come forward and I was disciplined within 40 minutes of making a disclosure and I followed the process to the letter of the law.

"I went to my general manager about his chief health and building surveyor and got dragged straight up and disciplined.

"I then thought well, rather than go back by myself (to the inquiry) I'd go back with my supervisors ... and every one of us was disciplined or made redundant or terminated within a space of a few weeks of coming forward.

"I was eventually laid off and couldn't get work and then worked for the union. I'm personally not aware of any person that's blown the whistle in local government that's ever been protected by the whis- tleblowers or Protected Disclosures Act which came into effect, I think, in 1995.

"I'm also not aware of any employer who has ever been brought before the commission for victimising any whistleblower either, and that is a bit of a problem.

"I had never been disciplined in 14 years 'til I made the disclosure, and 40 minutes later I received my first disciplinary and received three of them in a short space of time, including one when I was on leave without pay when working for the union in Sydney.

"Their plan at the time was to get rid of me ... every one of us, supervisors and overseers, who came forward, was either made redundant or terminated.

"Personally I don't have much faith in the whistleblowers legislation."

The Protected Disclosures Act, he said, was very specific about what protection was available to staff and what staff had to do in order to maintain that protection.

"You're not allowed to go to your local member or the media, you can only go to your general manager, the Ombudsman or the ICAC and you're not allowed to speak to anybody else and if you go outside of that then you're open for defamation and may not be protected," he said.



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