Speaking out in the public interest — being a whistleblower — can be risky. Media reports and public inquiries into allegations of misconduct in the public and private sectors regularly recount the negative consequences that those who make reports in the public interest have experienced—despite the presence of legislation that seeks to prevent reprisals and retaliation for disclosing misconduct. Instances in which whistleblowers have lost employment and careers, suffered harassment and intimidation, and experienced threats or acts of violence continue to occur in Australia.
This study sought to understand the nature of victimisation experienced by whistleblowers who had reported or attempted to report wrongdoing in their workplace. Information was obtained from in-depth interviews with 36 whistleblowers and 21 people who dealt with their reports in public and private sector organisations. The results confirm the nature of the harms that almost all whistleblowers experience as a consequence of reporting misconduct. The paper concludes by identifying ways in which whistleblowers could better be protected from victimisation and how the procedures and safeguards involved in the whistleblowing process could be strengthened.