Andrew Wilkie rose to prominence as a whistleblower
Australians traditionally have a self-image of being anti-authoritarian. Some say it comes from our convict heritage.
From primary school on, children have been discouraged from dobbing on each other. In schoolyard politics, the common wisdom is that even protecting bullies is preferable to being tagged a tattle-tale.
But Australian adults seem to be headed down a different path. Whether it’s water wasters, welfare fraud, litterers or dodgy cabbies, hundreds of thousands of Aussies are calling hotlines to dob in their fellow citizens.
“We shouldn’t be spies for the government,” says Chris Berg from the Institute of Public Affairs. “The next generation has to understand that if we don’t treat each other as equals, if we don’t treat each other as a community, we’re not going to have a community left to protect and enjoy.”
Although it could also be argued that a community arises from a shared sense of right and wrong, and an understanding of when a line has been crossed. So when is it right to speak out?
The world’s most famous dobber is an Aussie, one Julian Assange. Of course with whistleblowers like Assange, the people they’re dobbing on ARE the authorities.
It seems Australians overwhelmingly support this variety of dobber. In a poll from May this year, 81% of 1,211 people surveyed believed whistleblowers should be supported rather than punished for revealing inside information about serious wrongdoing.
“I was very heartened to know that the clear majority of Australians agree that if you see serious wrongdoing you should speak up about it,” says independent MP Andrew Wilkie.
Wilkie first rose to public prominence in 2003 when he resigned from his post as intelligence analyst for the Office of National Assessments over concerns that intelligence was being misrepresented for political purposes to make the case for the invasion of Iraq. And in those times he found the public less supportive.
“I faced a lot of hostility and I figured that maybe Australians didn’t like you dobbing on your mates or something like that,” reflects Wilkie.
“It turned my life upside down - I lost a good job, it ruined relationships, it cost me a lot of money.”
There is no legislated protection of whistleblowers in federal government agencies, despite the inclusion of the reform as a condition in the agreement of the three independent MPs with the PM to form a minority government in 2010.
When is it OK to dob? Vote in our poll or have your say below.