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Is Being A Whistleblower Worth It?

A whistleblower exposes information or activity at a company in the private or public sector that is illegal, unethical or not correct.

Whether they blow the lid off an individual or organisation's practices, a whistleblower takes on significant risk and can endure profound retaliation.

There's abundant colloquial slang for being an informant in Australia -- 'lagger', 'dobber' -- so whistleblowers are often wrongly painted with the same brush.

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"[Those names] are a reason why some people resist the idea of rewarding whistleblowers for coming forward," Josh Bornstein, head of Maurice Blackburn Lawyers’ Employment Law team, told 10 daily.

"It is an important, discernible part of the debate and our business culture."

Corporate crime expert James Martin told 10 daily whistleblowers in Australia have historically been "drastically under-protected".

"They face significant hardships if they come forward to report crimes committed in the financial sector, often effectively destroying their own careers to bring the misdeeds of others to light," Martin said.

The Treasury Laws Amendment (Enhancing Whistleblower Protections) Bill 2018 has passed the Senate and should be approved by the House of Representatives this month.

Bill Shorten speaking with Jeff Morris in 2016. Image: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty.

Key elements of the bill include better protection for current and former employees and their relatives, anonymous disclosures permitted and the exclusion of "personal work-related grievances".

Whistleblowers who report concerns to politicians or the media are also being given additional protection, under a new "emergency disclosure" concept.

The amendment doesn't provide financial rewards for whistleblowers, which Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has pledged if Labor wins the next federal election.

Compensation is offered for those who uncover fraudulent acts in countries like America, which enacted the Securities and Investment Exchange (SEC) Whistleblower program after the global financial crisis.

Shorten's promise to pass similar legislation is "terrific", said Bornstein.

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"It will encourage good people to come forward and will be a crucial part in cleaning up the woeful problems in our corporate governance in this country."

Former Labor MP Sam Dastyari said Jeff Morris, whose exposure of bad banking practices lead to the Royal Banking Commission, paid "a higher price than any whistleblower".

Morris's persistence steered numerous senators, Dastyari included, to push for the initial parliamentary inquiry, where Morris revealed he'd been the target of shooting threats.

Morris told ABC News whistleblowing had a "horrific impact" on his family, and he avowed "nobody should have to go through what I've gone through".

"Whistleblowers -- whether it's corporate or for sexual misconduct -- never work in the industry again. Jeff gave 10 years of his life," Dastyari told 10 daily.

"There's a sense of vindication, but also a sense of what's next. Your entire life becomes getting this justice. He sacrificed more than he should have."

Weinstein accuser Mira Sorvino and 'MeToo' founder Tarana Burke. Image: Presley Ann/Getty.

Whistleblowing in the era of the "Me Too" movement has seen similar consequences for women who speak up against sexual abuse.

Currently representing "at least five" sexual harassment cases, Bornstein said "women who come forward often risk strong retaliation."

"Prior to Harvey Weinstein's allegations coming out, women who'd complained about him or rejected him lost career opportunities. They were punished."

For more Australians to come forward about corruption or misconduct the whistleblower would ideally be allowed to remain anonymous, Bornstein said.

"To make a complaint to a regulator, have it investigated and prosecuted, and receive a reward if the prosecution is successful -- all the while remaining anonymous -- would be the preferable position," he said.

"It would protect people from the sorts of punishments that get metered out in this country."

Contact the author: samelia@networkten.com.au.