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Was it whistleblowing?

By Peter Bowden - posted Monday, 11 April 2011


The eighteen year old female cadet at the Defence Force Academy secretly photographed having sex with a fellow cadet was clearly blowing the whistle when she complained about it to Channel 10. And Commodore Bruce Kafer, boss of the academy, who asked her to apologise to her class mates in her division, for she was "bringing the division into disrepute" was obviously retaliating against her for speaking out. By attempting to shift responsibility from the wrongdoer to the wronged – he was putting the blame onto the young woman most damaged by the events. It seems incredible that the head of a major public institution could be unaware of the meaning of the word "retaliation'.

The most widely accepted definition of whistleblowing is "the disclosure by organisational members of Illegal, immoral, or illegitimate practices to persons or organisations able to effect action". Illegal, immoral or illegitimate practices are collectively described as wrongdoing. The Australian Federal Police are currently investigating whether the skyping of the sex acts to cadets in a nearby room negates her consent and therefore whether it can be treated as rape. Regardless of whether it is illegal or not, however, broadcasting the photos clearly is wrong, for the woman's privacy has been savagely compromised. The near universal condemnation of the Academy's actions, including the Minister for Defence, Stephen Smith, verifies the widely held belief that the Academy is in the wrong.

The Channel 10 exposure has resulted in fellow cadets calling the 18 year old to her face a "slut" a "dirty whore" and more. In asking her to apologise, the Commander was breaking well–established laws that exists in other major Western countries. These laws make retribution, or the failure to stop retribution, a criminal offence. They are laws that do not exist in this country. They are laws that have been promised in the election manifesto of the Rudd government, by that government when in office, and now by the Gillard government. In early 2010 the government told us by next January. We are still waiting.

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Stephen Smith would as well use his time and influence to ensure that this legislation is passed. Australia is the only major western country that does not have laws to protect its national whistleblowers. The story by Channel 10's Hugh Riminton in the Australian on April 9, "Failed by the system: The cadets true story." and the headlines "Heads will Roll" in the Sun Herald, April 10 reported that the Commandant had instigated disciplinary proceedings against the cadet on a different matter. Commodore Kater is obviously unaware of implications of his actions. Or how lucky he is that the Australian government is so slow in attempting to strengthen the ethical practices of its agencies.

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About the Author

Peter Bowden is an author, researcher and ethicist. He was formerly Coordinator of the MBA Program at Monash University and Professor of Administrative Studies at Manchester University. He is currently a member of the Australian Business Ethics Network , working on business, institutional, and personal ethics.

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