6/27 Update: The ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) will seek access to the trial of accused whistleblower David McBride, according to Commonwealth lawyers, who say the national broadcaster has expressed an interest in influencing orders affecting the trial.
Mr McBride, 55, was greeted outside the ACT Supreme Court this morning by a group of protesters supporting his case, holding signs with statements like “protect whistleblowers, defend democracy”.
The recent arrest of an Australian whistleblower and police raids on journalists’ offices have triggered movement toward stronger whistleblower protection laws in that country. Another case in the Australian news is a reminder that whistleblowers often give up beloved careers to expose wrongdoing.
In one a recent case, a federal judge was quoted calling Australia’s whistleblower laws “technical, obtuse and intractable.”
Transparency campaigners have welcomed attorney general Christian Porter’s announcement that whistleblower protections will be strengthened, while urging him to establish a new whistleblower protection authority, create a compensation scheme and shield a broader range of people.
Porter on Friday flagged his intention to overhaul public sector whistleblower protections, in an attempt to make the system simpler and more accessible to government employees.
More from The New York Times on David William McBride, who is charged with leaking classified military documents to Australian Broadcasting Corporation journalists. McBride admits to leaking documents that led to a story on Australian special forces in Afghanistan.
The ABC reported growing unease in the Australian Defense Force leadership about the culture of special forces and that Australian troops had killed unarmed men and children.
But McBride has pleaded not guilty to all charges. He told reporters outside court he had a duty as an army officer to expose wrongdoing by generals and government ministers over Australian operations in Afghanistan.
“A lot of what they say is national security is actually a national shame,” McBride said outside court.
It was a scoop that shook Australia’s political and military worlds to the core: a leaked report in 2017 about possible unlawful killings by soldiers in Afghanistan.
Two years later, the story and its fallout are part of a case that has ignited a furious debate in Australia about media freedom, protections for whistleblowers and the extent of laws that claim to safeguard national security.
“It’s not just about the media,” said John Lyons, the executive news editor at the Australian Broadcasting Corp., the country’s main public television and radio outlet.
“It’s about any person out there who wants to tell the media about a bad hospital, or a school that’s not working, or a corrupt local council. The message from the [Australian Federal Police] to all of those people is: Watch out, because we will be able to find out who you are and we will come after you.”
Canberra Times offers an update on another Australian whistleblower, former livestock veterinarian Lynn Simpson. She worked on live-export ships that transported thousands of cattle and sheep. Simpson supplied investigators with photos of the sometimes hot, crowded and unsanitary conditions.
She receives compensation today and settled a court case against the Agriculture Department in 2017, but her ordeal isn’t over. No one in the industry has employed her since the report’s findings went viral.
“It sort of follows you like you’ve got a criminal record, but you haven’t committed a crime,” she says.
Dr Simpson lost touch with people afraid of reprisals if they associated with her, and during her legal case against the department, was so short of money she lived off a credit card. Her health deteriorated when she lost her job. Struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety followed.
“First and foremost is it’s changed my life forever; my life will never get back to what it was.”
Vet Practice magazine offers a profile of Simpson entitled “The Outsider.” She reports sharing photos and information with regulators about animals covered in feces suffering from eye infections and leg injuries linked to overcrowded conditions and poor bedding.
Then, her name was revealed as the source of the information.
Whether it was done by malice or incompetence, the leak ended Dr Simpson’s career in the Animal Welfare Branch. She was told, … that she could no longer continue working on live-export-related issues because the industry the department were charged with regulating now perceived her as biased in favour of animal-welfare organisations…
The story reports that Simpson is moving on.
She now lives on a farm outside Canberra, surrounded by dogs and horses and the art she collected at all the ports she visited… She is writing down her life, and she is involved with support groups for whistleblowers. And though Dr Simpson is now on the outside, she remains steadfastly committed to seeing the live-export industry being significantly reformed.