Speech: The importance of whistleblowing
Speech delivered by Deputy State Services Commissioner Debbie Power at the launch of the Whistle While They Work 2 launch event.
Firstly, I’d like to acknowledge Peter Boshier, Chief Ombudsman, for co-hosting this event here at your offices, and Professor A J Brown for joining us here in New Zealand to discuss with us the outcome of the initial phase of the Whistling While They Work 2 research.
And of course to you all for joining us here today to discuss this important issue.
Unfortunately, Peter Hughes has been unable to make it tonight due to sickness however he does send his apologies.
Making sure we have the right systems, processes and protections in place for Public Servants to be able to raise concerns is something he is very engaged in so he did want to be able to come along tonight.
Since he began as State Services Commissioner a year ago, the trust and integrity of the public service has been a significant focus for him and the Commission.
In fact, under the Commissioner’s leadership we have now established a dedicated Integrity, Ethics and Standards group, led by a Deputy Commissioner, to help deliver this work.
The Acting Deputy Commissioner who is setting this team up, Catherine Williams, is here tonight.
The public service is here to make a difference because we care about our fellow New Zealanders.
In order to make that difference and operate effectively in our communities, we need to have the backing of the New Zealand public – we need New Zealanders to trust us and have confidence in us and what we do.
To maintain the trust and confidence of the public we need to be able to demonstrate that we are trustworthy, that we act in the interests of the country and its citizens and never for our own personal gain.
And we do well in this regard. New Zealand is now first equal in the Transparency International Perceptions of Corruption Index. And we have always been in the top group since this index started.
That’s great but there is still work to do and room to improve.
This year we have had a high profile example of Public Servants working in CERA who were found to have been putting their own personal interests before those of their agency and the people of Canterbury.
As the Commissioner said when he published Michael Heron QC’s investigation report – that conduct is completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated.
When conduct like this comes to light it will be taken seriously and fully investigated. We need to make sure that this sort of conduct is brought out into the light.
One of the best ways to do that is to have clear, effective processes and procedures for concerned public servants to raise issues within their workplaces that they have observed or otherwise discovered.
And I have confidence that the overwhelming majority of Public Servants are there to do the right thing and to make a difference - and will be angry about anyone who is letting them down.
As you will all be aware, the Commissioner has opened an investigation after former staff members of the Ministry of Transport wrote to him with concerns about how they were treated after they raised concerns about the convicted fraudster Joanne Harrison.
I can’t speak in too much detail around the investigation itself tonight. But, Sandi Beatie has made good progress and we are expecting her final report in the near future.
The Commissioner will consider her report and any recommendations, if any steps or changes are required, SSC will act on them quickly.
This process has again highlighted the importance of understanding how we can better support public servants to stand up and speak up when they see something happening in their workplace that is not acceptable.
This is where the Whistling While They Work 2 research plays a part for us.
The research so far has begun to show us some of the areas in which we can improve our practices, and this next phase will help us to better understand what is currently happening.
I’ve seen from the initial results in the report today that the public service in New Zealand is focussed on this area with over sixty agencies responding.
However, as a public service, we do sit just below the average grade when compared to some of our Australian counterparts.
This shows there is some work for us to do to improve.
To help us, this research will ultimately provide a benchmark which we can build from as well as providing some material to inform this work.
Because of this, I encourage you all to become involved in the next phase of this research, the Integrity@Werq survey.
Not only will this help to better understand practices across New Zealand, but it gives you an opportunity to see where you sit compared to other organisations.
In my role at the State Services Commission, I know the importance that the Protected Disclosure Act plays in this area.
SSC is currently finalising updated advice and guidance for all public sector agencies on how to improve their protected disclosure act policies and processes using the current law.
In terms of the law itself, this act is now seventeen years old. While it was best practice at the time it was passed, we don’t believe that it still is.
We will be suggesting to the Government that we look at how we can improve the Act to better assist and support those who may choose to use its provisions.
However legislation is of itself not the whole answer. As I said earlier -
There is a lot we can do to make improvements now, with a focus on making sure public agencies have clear, effective processes and procedures – backed up by clear communication so staff understand that they should raise issues and know how they can do it.