1. Principles and Purpose

Compassion Australia is committed to a culture of good commercial practice and highly ethical behaviour. To assist with this, Compassion Australia encourages employees (and others) to raise issues about whether Compassion Australia or persons acting on its behalf have complied with applicable laws and other standards of behaviour via-

  • (a) our Complaints Policy,

  • (b) our Child Safety Policy,

  • (c) our Employee Grievance Policy,

  • (d) our work health and safety policies, or

  • (e) this Whistleblower Policy.

This policy sets out Compassion Australia’s approach to concerns or complaints made by persons seeking protection under the whistleblower protection scheme established by the Corporations Act.[i] It is available on our website, within our policy library and upon request to compassion@compassion.com.au or by calling 1300 22 44 53.

The whistleblower protection scheme applies only to certain disclosures, made by certain people, to certain eligible recipients. A person claiming whistleblower protection should satisfy themselves they meet the criteria. Legal advice should be sought, if required.

2. Application of Policy

This policy applies when an eligible whistleblower provides information about a disclosable matter to an eligible recipient. In this respect:

  • Eligible whistleblowers are as defined in the Corporations Act[ii], generally speaking being all current and former officers, associates, employees, volunteers, suppliers of Compassion Australia (including certain relatives and dependents).

  • Disclosable matters are as defined in the Corporations Act[iii], generally speaking being information about misconduct or an improper state of affairs (but not a personal work related grievance[iv] except in special circumstances). This would include dishonesty, fraud, corruption, illegal activities, discrimination, vilification, sexual harassment, unsafe work practices, unethical behaviour, improper financial gain, and other conduct which may cause reputational damage or financial loss to Compassion Australia. It would also include the deliberate concealment of information tending to show these matters.

Even if a disclosure turns out to be incorrect, a disclosure will still qualify for whistleblower protection if the discloser had reasonable grounds to suspect the information was a disclosable matter but the protections do not apply if there were not objectively reasonable grounds for the discloser’s suspicion.

Further, a disclosure can also qualify for protection if it is made to the Australian Securities & Investments Commission (“ASIC”) or a prescribed Commonwealth authority. Certain public interest and emergency disclosures are protected,[v] as are disclosures to a legal practitioner for the purposes of legal advice or representation.

3. Making a disclosure

A disclosure can be made anonymously and still be protected under the whistleblower protection scheme. However, disclosers are encouraged to include their contact details to enable a response to be given.

A discloser should be aware that even if they report anonymously, in practice, people may be able to guess their identity if they have already told people they are considering making a complaint or if the disclosure relates to information that only a small number of people have access to.

The online reporting facility, EthicsPoint, is a secure web platform for a disclosure to be made online. The Compassion EthicsPoint site can be accessed at the following address- www.compassion.ethicspoint.com

The person receiving a disclosure via EthicsPoint will be a staff member of Compassion International who will provide the details of the disclosure to Compassion Australia. Where a disclosure is made online through EthicsPoint and the disclosure is protected under the whistleblower protection scheme, information about the discloser’s identity will only be provided to Compassion Australia if the discloser consents. Otherwise, the details of the disclosure will be anonymised.

If a disclosure is made via EthicsPoint, but the disclosure is not protected under the whistleblowing protection scheme (because, for example, it is a personal work related grievance not covered by the scheme), it will be dealt with in accordance with our applicable policy.

While it is Compassion Australia’s preference that a disclosure under the whistleblower protection scheme be made via EthicsPoint, a disclosure can also be made to a director or senior manager of Compassion Australia, or to its external auditor. Contact details can be obtained upon request to compassion@compassion.com.au or by calling 1300 22 44 53. When making a disclosure to a director, senior manager or external auditor, the term “whistleblower” should be used.

4. Handling a disclosure

The role of the person who receives an eligible whistleblower disclosure is to-

  • (a) unless the discloser has consented to their identity being disclosed, keep their identity confidential,

  • (b) if required, anonymise the disclosure for any required investigation,

  • (c) provide details of the disclosure for investigation,

  • (d) keep the discloser informed of the steps taken or to be taken where practicable.

Any investigation in relation to a disclosure will be conducted promptly and fairly, with due regard for the nature of the allegation and the rights of the persons involved in the investigation, and -

  • (a) Any evidence gathered during an investigation, including any materials, documents, or records, will be held securely.

  • (b) During the investigation, the investigator will have access to all the relevant materials, documents, and records. The directors, officers, employees, and agents of Compassion Australia will be directed to cooperate fully with the investigator.

  • (c) Following completion of the investigation, a final report will be issued, and appropriate action taken where applicable.

5. Whistleblower protection

A discloser who qualifies for protection has the protections described below relating to protection of the discloser’s identity, protection from detrimental acts or omissions, potential compensation and other remedies, and some protections from liability.

Confidentiality and protection of identity

A discloser can ask that their identity, or information likely to lead to their identification, be kept confidential. However, their identity may be disclosed to ASIC or the Australian Federal Police, or to a lawyer for advice about the whistleblower protections. There may also be circumstances where a discloser’s identity must be disclosed to a court or tribunal. Outside of these circumstances it is illegal for a person to reveal the identity of a whistleblower, or information likely to lead to the identification of a whistleblower. A complaint can be lodged under this policy if a discloser believes their confidentiality has been breached or can be made to ASIC.

The measures adopted by Compassion Australia for protecting the confidentiality of a discloser’s identity, when requested, include the following –

  • all personal information or reference to the discloser will be redacted,

  • the disclosure will be referred to in a gender-neutral context,

  • where possible, the discloser will be contacted to help identify aspects of their disclosure that could inadvertently identify them, and

  • disclosures will be handled by qualified staff, and

  • all paper and electronic documents and other materials related to disclosures will be stored securely, and

  • access to all information relating to a disclosure will be limited to those directly involved in managing and investigating the disclosure, and

  • communications and documents relating to the investigation of a disclosure will not be sent to an email address or to a printer that can be accessed by other staff, and

  • each person involved in handling and investigating a disclosure will be reminded of the confidentiality requirements.

Protection from detrimental acts or omissions

A person cannot engage in conduct to the detriment of a discloser (or another person), or threaten to do so, if the person believes or suspects that the discloser (or another person) made, or may have made, or proposes to make or could make a disclosure that qualifies for protection and the belief or suspicion is the reason, or part of the reason, for the conduct. In this respect, detriment is as defined in the Corporations Act[vi], generally speaking including harassment, intimidation, damaging of reputation, discrimination and termination of employment. However, detriment would not include moving a discloser who has made a disclosure about their immediate work area to another office to protect them from detriment or managing a discloser’s unsatisfactory work performance, if the action is in line with Compassion Australia’s performance management policies and procedures.

Compensation and other remedies

A discloser (or any other employee or person) can seek compensation and other remedies through the courts if they suffer detriment because of a disclosure, or Compassion Australia fails to take reasonable precautions and exercise due diligence to prevent conduct to the detriment of the discloser. A discloser may wish to seek legal advice or contact ASIC before doing this.

Protection from liability

A discloser is protected, in relation to their disclosure, from –

  • (a) civil liability (such as an action against the discloser for breach of their employment contract or duty of confidentiality);

  • (b) criminal liability (such as an attempted prosecution of the discloser for unlawfully releasing information); or

  • (c) administrative liability (such as disciplinary action for making disclosures).

However, these protections do not grant immunity for any misconduct a discloser has engaged in that is revealed in their disclosure. Further, the immunities do not apply if the if the discloser did not have reasonable grounds for suspecting the disclosure related to a disclosable matter. Accordingly, if a disclosure is vexatious, Compassion Australia may take action against the discloser.

6. Support and fair treatment

Compassion Australia is committed to ensuring that eligible whistleblowers receive the protections under the whistleblower protection scheme, and do not suffer any detriment. When a qualifying disclosure under the whistleblower protection scheme is made, relevant individuals will be reminded of the requirements of this policy to ensure that protections are not undermined. Any person who engages in conduct which causes detriment to a discloser or a person who participates in an investigation pursuant to this policy, or threatens such conduct, will be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal.

If a disclosure mentions or relates to officers, employees or volunteers other than the discloser, steps will be taken to ensure that they are treated fairly. Typically, this would include giving those persons the opportunity to respond to the subject matter of the disclosure, subject to the principles of procedural fairness.

Compassion Australia’s employee assistance program services will be available to a discloser and other employees affected by a disclosure. Additional support, if required, will be considered.

7 Vexatious and unsupported complaints

The protections under the whistleblower protection scheme do not extend to vexatious complaints or complaints not made on objectively reasonable grounds. Disciplinary action may be taken against a person who does not have objectively reasonable grounds for making a disclosure, up to and including dismissal.

8 Review of policy

Compassion Australia will periodically review this policy and update as required.

9 Further information and advice

For further information, contact the Head of Risk & Compliance at risk@compassion.com.au.

[i] Part 9.4AAA of the Corporations Act 2001

[ii] Section 1317AAA

[iii] Section 1317AA

[iv] Section 1317AADA

[v] Section 1317AADA

[vi] Section 1317ADA