Home World Business ‘Cultural element’ hampering investigations into financial crimes: AFP

‘Cultural element’ hampering investigations into financial crimes: AFP

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The Australian Federal Police has raised concerns about a “cultural element” inside corporate Australia that is hampering investigations into serious financial crimes, including bribery, fraud and money laundering. 

In a Senate inquiry into whistleblower protections, the AFP said corporate cultures that discouraged whistleblowers to speak out about unlawful behaviour undermined investigations. 

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The inquiry also heard Australia’s banks are continuing to pressure workers who blow the whistle on unethical and unlawful behaviour, despite a series of scandals and parliamentary inquiries into misconduct in the sector.

The AFP said whistleblowers faced discouragement from employers to speak out about financial crime. 

The AFP said corporate cultures that discouraged whistleblowers to speak out about unlawful behaviour undermined ... The AFP said corporate cultures that discouraged whistleblowers to speak out about unlawful behaviour undermined investigations Photo: Nic Walker

It used the example of an employee that became aware police were interested in speaking to them.

The employee told their employer about the situation, who directed the employee to the company’s confidentiality rules, and implied they could be sacked if they spoke to police. The employee then resolved not to speak to police and no additional information was obtained. 

“That’s a very concerning explication of something that we’re hearing is widespread,” said Labor senator Deborah O’Neill, who is taking part in the inquiry. 

“This coercive, soft power that is used in an implied way.”

AFP Commander Peter Crozier said: “There’s a real cultural element here. That is one of the key aspects of the processes we’re putting in place.”

The Financial Services Union told the Senate inquiry that members were still reporting being pressured into staying silent over concerns about misbehaviour inside the banks.

In one instance, it said a senior auditor inside a major bank was threatened by management after she raised concerns about a financial planner who was acting unlawfully. 

FSU national secretary Julia Angrisano said the auditor was invited to “walk around the block” with a senior manager, who told her “if you know what’s good for you, you will not report this, and you’ll sweep it under the carpet”. 

Senator O’Neill said: “It’s quite breathtaking to actually hear this testimony and to hear that it’s continuing.” 

“The evidence you’ve given us this morning indicates it’s still just as dangerous for a whistleblower today in a major Australian bank …. as it was two years ago.”

​Ms Angrisano said frameworks for internal reporting by whistleblowers inside companies were often “completely inadequate”.

“It’s pure poetry when you read their policies around this,” she said.

“Our members contact us feeling like they’ve seen something or they’ve heard something but they’re too scared to raise it.

“They have seen it happen in other circumstances where people just simply lose their jobs, move onto another department or are isolated.” 

Business lobby groups the Australian Institute for Company Directors and the Governance Institute have called for greater protection for whistleblowers but have stopped short at rules that would protect whistleblowers who go to “third parties”, including the media, unions and members of parliament.

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