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Should whistleblowers get paid from the public purse?

New policy proposed on eve of the royal commission final report.

Jack Derwin

Digital Journalist, Your Money

With the final report of the financial services royal commission due for public release, Labor has announced a string of proposals aimed to protect and pay individuals who have blown the whistle on misconduct.

On the eve of release, Opposition leader Bill Shorten said Labor, if elected, would compensate employees who stepped forward to expose criminal behaviour with a percentage of the penalties levelled as a result.

Commonwealth Bank financial planning whistleblower Jeff Morris speaks to the media outside the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry in Sydney, Monday, November 19, 2018. (AAP Image/Joel Carrett)

While Labor has made no mention of figures, it would likely be consistent with the current taxpayer whistleblowers scheme which rewards those who report tax evasion with payments of up to $250,000.

A similar whistleblowers scheme has already been successfully implemented in the United States.

Labor would also fund a special prosecutor to oversee cases, establish a protection authority and bundle existing protections into a single Whistleblowers Act.

The Government was quick to disregard the proposals, with Minister for Jobs and Industrial Relations Kelly O’Dwyer slamming them as “wacky”, saying they would compensate those who may have themselves been involved in misconduct.

Labor’s announcement timing is no coincidence, with whistleblowers having been a driving force behind the royal commission.

Jeff Morris was a Commonwealth Bank financial planner who broke ranks with his employer after witnessing corruption that he claimed went all the way to the top.

The alleged misconduct included an incident that saw half a million dollars of retirement savings go missing from a couple’s account.

After flagging what he’d witnessed with the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC), he was disturbed when the regulator didn’t act – a theme that has played out throughout the public hearings.

Instead, he was forced to go public with the information, leaving his career in tatters and becoming the target of coordinated attacks from the financial services sector.

Indeed, at the same time that Labor was proposing protections, disgraced former MP Sam Dastyari took to Twitter to make the explosive claims that he himself had witnessed a deliberate smear campaign be orchestrated against Morris in retaliation.

Dastyari has since started an online campaign to raise money for Morris, who along with other whistleblowers was crucial in lobbying for the royal commission.

While Labor became an ardent supporter of the inquiry from 2016 onwards, it did vote against the original motion put up by the Greens the year previous.

Meanwhile the Coalition Government was reluctantly dragged into it after voting against the royal commission more than 20 times, with the then-Treasurer Scott Morrison dismissing it as a “populist whinge”.

Labor argues that measures to pay and protect whistleblowers would mitigate against the personal costs that Morris and others have had to endure.

While both political parties will now jostle to score political points from the report, will Morris and whistleblowers like him be made to languish for speaking out?

Your Money digital editor Aleks Vickovich previously spoke with Your Money Live about the role of whistleblowers like Jeff Morris. Watch the video above.

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