Whistleblowers are those who sound the alert on scandal, danger, malpractice, or corruption.
A strict definition is:
Whistleblowing is an act of dissent (loosely speaking). It is an open disclosure about significant wrongdoing made by a concerned citizen totally or predominantly motivated by notions of public interest, who has perceived the wrongdoing in a particular role and initiates the disclosure of her or his own free will, to a person or agency capable of investigating the complaint and facilitating the correction of wrongdoing.
Whistleblowers are often subject to suppression, but not always. Some individuals are subject to suppression even though they are not whistleblowers even in the loose sense. For example, individuals quietly adhering to unorthodox ideas may be subject to suppression.
Several Australian governments have introduced or are considering legislation to protect whistleblowers from reprisals. This sounds like an excellent idea, but it has severe limitations. The legislation can only cover certain types of individuals, typically public servants, and particular types of dissent. But many types of problems are hard to legislate against, such as subtle harassment campaigns and the blocking of appointments to higher positions.
The main objective of the Whistleblowers Protection Act 2001 (Vic) (the Act) is to encourage and facilitate the making of disclosures of improper conduct or detrimental action by public officers and public bodies in Victoria. The Act provides some protection to whistleblowers who make disclosures in accordance with the Act, and establishes a system for the matters disclosed to be investigated and for rectifying action to be taken.
For an explanatory guide to the working of the Act go to the Victorian Ombudsman site.
One of the best websites for support and information to start with is Brian Martin's Suppression of Dissent site.
For commentary on whistleblower legislation follow the links below:
William De Maria in his 2002 paper Common law - common mistakes analyses strengths and weaknesses of whistleblower laws from five countries.
In another 2002 paper, The Victorian Whistleblower Protection Act: patting the paws of corruption?, he analyses the Victorian government's law.
Stuart Dawson discusses whistleblower legislation and related issues in his paper Whistleblowing: a broad definition and some issues for Australia, published in 2000.
The Whistleblowers Handbook: How to be an effective resister (PDF) by Brian Martin.
This definitive manual for people who speak out in the public interest tells you how to assess options, prepare for action, use official channels, build support and survive the experience. And it is filled with sample cases that show what can happen when you make the wrong assumptions or take the wrong actions.
Whistleblowers Australia Inc. is an association for those who have exposed corruption or any form of malpractice, especially if they were then hindered or abused, and for those who are thinking of exposing it, or who wish to support those who are doing so.