I have a personal example of whistleblowing which raised for me both the moral and ethical aspects of what I believed to be "the right thing" to do, and the hypocrisy of my family.
I "dobbed in" a family member who was quadruple dipping Centrelink: when I had confronted him numerous times about the implications of what he was doing, and how he should stop. He simply told me that I was stupid for giving Centrelink all the information that they requested from me as an Austudy student; he said that he never told them anything and that they left him alone because of that.
I thought about it long and hard for a couple of months before I finally lodged an anonymous complaint about his behaviour to Centrelink on their website. This family member was so cocky that he wanted to find out who had made a complaint about him. So he put in an application under the Freedom of Information Act to see a copy of the complaint; and to see if there was any indication of who - out of only a few people - knew as much information as in this complaint and exactly what the complaint contained so that he could work on his defence against the allegations.
It took two months for the copy of my complaint to come through to him and in that time Centrelink didn’t act on the complaint (this is their policy when the accused person applies for this information under the Act). In that time he was able to "cover up" and make changes necessary in the areas where he had been defrauding Centrelink so that by the time they finally acted on the complaint the evidence was virtually non-existent.
In the meantime, other family members were able to view the copy of the complaint, and although there was no identifying information, such as what computer or email address the complaint had come from, a close family member recognised the writing style as being mine (wording and punctuation, and so on).
As I was one of several "suspects" whom they knew was aware of this information they confronted me and told me that they knew it was me, and that I was “dumped” from the family regardless of whether or not I was the “culprit”. They said I might as well say what my convictions had been to make me do that to a family member. Given that summation I decided it would be my last chance to explain myself and also to outline the ethics of his wrong doing and how lacking the system was to basically let him get away with his fraud scot free!
Most of my family are still not talking to me and have “dumped” me from the family as my brother promised they would. It has been more than three years now since these events and numerous attempts by me to make peace by suggesting we agree to disagree on the matter and move on have not even been responded to. My mother (who talks to me but doesn’t agree with what I did to the family) actually told me recently that they don’t want to agree to disagree because they feel I am wrong and I should just admit that and beg forgiveness from them instead.
Of course, I will not do that because I still believe what I did was both morally and ethically correct. And I would do it again, even in hindsight, but would phone through the complaint rather than write it. But that would be the only thing I would do differently, even knowing, as I do now, what the family reaction would be if they were to find out like this time.
My family member's reactions were all the same: "Its only Centrelink and everyone does it."
It really made me wonder, as a mandated reporter for children’s safety, whether it would have been OK with my family if the situation had been that he was abusing his child or beating his partner - or whether the "you don’t do that sort of thing to family" excuse would still be their catch cry.
Ironically, since making my anonymous complaint to Centrelink my own payments have been cut off, or needlessly suspended six times. I’ve been "checked into" and had my situation reviewed virtually monthly in the past three years for doing the “right thing”. Not once have they apologised for the errors they have made which have cost me a great deal of money in bank charges, have caused me ulcers, anxiety and a heart condition, and, in addition, have aggravated my depression. It really makes me wonder if "doing the right thing" is in fact the right thing for me to have done.
And what happened to the family member I blew the whistle on? NOTHING - no fines, no delays, no cutting off of any of the payments he receives whether they be ones he is entitled to or is getting fraudulently. To the best of my knowledge he is still at least triple dipping the Centrelink system!
Yet I have had nothing but angst from Centrelink for submitting everything they ask on time, everytime. I have learnt to get signed copies of everything I lodge, with date stamps and the name of the officer with whom I lodge them, while also trying to make sure that they note on my file exactly what has been submitted or gone on at each visit.
So being a whisteblower within my family has effectively made me into a leper! And the government wonders why there is so much Centrelink fraud?
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