Nov 28th 2022

Attorney-General urged to drop whistleblower prosecutions in open letter

“These prosecutions make Australia less transparent and less democratic, and undermine any effort to reform our whistleblower protection laws"

Leading Australian civil society groups have urged Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus KC MP to drop the ongoing prosecution of two Australian whistleblowers, in an open letter published in The Australian Financial Review today. 

The letter is signed by GetUp, Human Rights Law Centre, Australian Centre for International Justice, Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, The Australia Institute, Amnesty International Australia, and the Alliance Against Political Prosecutions. It coincides with the parliamentary push by the Attorney-General to pass amendments to the Public Interest Disclosure Act, the law which protects federal sector whistleblowers. 

While the letter welcomes these amendments, and the promise for more comprehensive reform of whistleblowing law in 2023, it condemns the Attorney-General for his failure to intervene in the ongoing prosecutions of two public sector whistleblowers: Richard Boyle, who spoke up about wrongdoing at the Australian Taxation Office, and former Defence lawyer David McBride, who blew the whistle on alleged Australian war crimes in Afghanistan.

Boyle is using a PID Act defence to argue he is immune from prosecution, with a decision expected in the coming weeks. If Boyle is unsuccessful, he will face a jury trial in late 2023. McBride was set to rely on a PID Act defence at a hearing last month, but withdrew it following a last-minute national security claim by the federal government that prevented McBride from using certain evidence. He will face a jury trial next year.

Tosca Lloyd, Media and Democracy Campaign Director at GetUp, said:

“These prosecutions make Australia less transparent and less democratic, and undermine any effort to reform our whistleblower protection laws. 

“In what is otherwise a momentous week for integrity in Australia, these ongoing prosecutions remain a dark stain on our democracy.

“The Attorney-General can't reassure people it's safe to speak out against corruption and wrongdoing with one breath, while continuing to prosecute them with the next.”

Kieran Pender, Senior Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, said:

“Mark Dreyfus is to be commended for doing the right thing and moving to protect Australian whistleblowers. But while these unjust prosecutions remain on-foot, they send a chilling message to Australian whistleblowers: speak up and face jail. 

"There is no public interest in these prosecutions. The Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions and Attorney-General each has the power to end these cases – they must act.”

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