Some fascinating distinctions have emerged in a major survey of attitudes to whistleblowing released today.

The World Online Whistleblowing Survey was launched this morning with a Newspoll survey on Australians’ attitudes towards whistleblowing and those who reveal inside information. The survey is a joint Griffith University/University of Melbourne project testing public views about whistleblowing internationally.

The Newspoll survey showed widespread community support for people who reveal wrongdoing. Over half of 1211 respondents thought it was acceptable in Australia to speak up about serious wrongdoing; more than 80% thought people who revealed serious wrongdoing should be supported, and more than 80% said they would feel obliged to report wrongdoing within their organisations if they observed it. However, there were significant differences across demographics.

In general, older people are far more supportive of whistleblowing. They’re much more likely to believe too much information is kept secret — 62% of over-50s believe that, compared to 43% of 18-34-year-olds, more inclined to believe whistleblowers should be supported for revealing serious wrongdoing (88% to 75%) and far more likely to believe it is “highly acceptable” to reveal wrongdoing. The Newspoll survey asked three different questions about whistleblowing itself — whether it was acceptable to reveal wrongdoing by managers, by co-workers and by friends or relatives.

In each scenario, older people were significantly more supportive of whistleblowing. Sixty five per cent of over-50s believe that it is “highly acceptable” to reveal wrongdoing by managers, compared to 40% of 18-34-year-olds; 55% to 30% wrongdoing by co-workers and 39% to 18% “highly acceptable” to report wrongdoing by friends or relatives.

Older people also say they are much more likely to report wrongdoing in organisation where they work. Interestingly, however, older people are more inclined to support whistleblowing through workplace mechanisms. Like other groups, they are much less supportive of whistleblowing to the media except as a last resort, and have virtually no interest in reporting directly via social media.

And while the margins are smaller, support for whistleblowing is also stronger among white-collar workers and higher-income groups. White-collar workers are more likely than blue-collar workers to believe whistleblowers should be supported (86% to 76%), as are high income earners (those over $90,000, 87%; those under $50,000, 79%); white-collar workers are more likely to believe whistleblowing was highly or fairly acceptable (for example, reporting wrongdoing by management, 85% to 78%) as are higher-income earners (88% to 80%).

White-collar workers and higher-income earners also said they were more likely to report wrongdoing themselves — 84% white collar to 73% blue collar; 86% high-incomer earners to 69% low-income earners. And white-collar workers and high-income earners were more likely to support whistleblowing through formal channels, rather than going to the media.

Based on the poll, the project team concludes there isn’t an “anti-dobbing” culture in Australia, but it appears the remnants of it may linger among younger people, blue-collar and lower-income workers.

Peter Fray

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