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CHOICE Whistleblower Policy

1. Introduction

As a consumer advocate, CHOICE understands the importance of whistleblowing. People who report unethical or illegal practices within businesses help us to identify practices that should be investigated or publicised. They also inform our campaigns to improve consumer rights. 

We set high standards for our own operations. This includes ensuring that CHOICE acts with integrity, honesty and in accordance with the law and principles of good governance. We recognise that there may be occasions where a person wants to make a disclosure about some aspect of our conduct. We expect that people associated with the organisation will help us to maintain our high standards including, where necessary, reporting inappropriate or illegal conduct. 

This policy explains how people covered by the protections offered by whistleblower laws can make a protected disclosure. 

2. Definitions

In this policy: 

You means a person eligible to make a disclosure protected by whistleblower laws (see section 5). 

Officer means a member of the CHOICE Board, the Company Secretary or any other person who falls within the definition of ‘officer’ in section 9 of the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth). 

Protected matters means the types of matters outlined in section 

Senior manager means one of the members of the management team listed on the CHOICE website. 

Whistleblower laws refers to the protections contained in Part 9.4AAA of the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth). 

Whistleblower Protection Officer is the Director of People and Culture. 

3. Commencement and scope      

This policy has effect from 1 January 2020. It replaces all other policies dealing with whistleblowers and whistleblower laws. 

This policy applies to all disclosures, as defined in section 5 below. 

The policy is not intended to create any contractually binding obligations on CHOICE and does not form part of any contract of employment or other contract for engagements with CHOICE. 

4. Protected matters

A disclosure is protected if you have reasonable grounds to suspect that the information disclosed concerns misconduct or an improper state of affairs or circumstances, in relation to CHOICE. This can include concerns that CHOICE or an officer or employee of CHOICE has engaged in conduct that: 

(a) breaches the Corporations Act 2001; 

(b) breaches other financial sector laws enforced by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) or the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA); 

(c) breaches a law of the Commonwealth that is punishable by imprisonment for 12 months or more; and/or 

(d) represents a danger to the public or the financial system. '

The disclosure of information concerning a personal work-related grievance is not generally protected by whistleblower laws. 

Examples of personal work-related grievances that are not covered by this policy include grievances about: 

  • interpersonal conflicts between you and another employee 
  • a decision about engaging, transferring or promoting you 
  • a decision to discipline, suspend or terminate you

5. Who may make disclosures about protected matters?

You may make a protected disclosure if you are a current or former:

(a) employee of CHOICE;

(b) officer of CHOICE

(c) supplier of goods or services to CHOICE or an employee of a supplier

(d) associate of CHOICE

(e) or spouse, relative or dependent of any of these categories of people.

While you have to fall into one of these categories, you do not need to identify yourself. You can make a disclosure anonymously.

6. Who can a protected matter be disclosed to? 

In order to be protected by whistleblower laws, you must make your disclosure to:

(a) ASIC or APRA

(b) your lawyer for the purpose of obtaining legal advice or legal representation

(c) an officer or senior manager of CHOICE

(d) an auditor or member of an audit team conducting an audit of CHOICE

(e) an actuary of CHOICE

(d) and/or the Whistleblower Protection Officer (Director of People and Culture).

7. Disclosures to politicians and journalists   

You can also make a disclosure to a journalist or member of state or federal parliament but it will only be protected by whistleblower laws if it is a public interest disclosure or emergency disclosure, as described below.

Public interest disclosures 

Your disclosure will be a public interest disclosure if:

(a) you have previously made a disclosure that meets the other requirements described in sections 4 to 6 above

(b) at least 90 days have passed since you made that disclosure

(c) you do not have reasonable grounds to believe that action is being or has been taken to address your concerns

(d) you have reasonable grounds to believe that making a further disclosure of your concerns to a member of parliament or journalist would be in the public interest

(e) after 90 days have passed since your disclosure, you give CHOICE (or another entity to whom you made a disclosure protected by the whistleblower laws, such as ASIC) written notice that identifies the previous disclosure and states your intention to make a public interest disclosure;

(f) you report your concerns to a journalist or member of parliament

(g) and the extent of information disclosed is no greater than is necessary to inform the journalist or member of parliament of the relevant misconduct or improper state of affairs or circumstances.

Emergency disclosures

Your disclosure will be an emergency disclosure if:

(a) you have previously made a disclosure that meets the other requirements described in sections 4 to 6 above

(b) you have reasonable grounds to believe that the information concerns a substantial and imminent danger to the health or safety of one or more persons or to the natural environment

(c) you give CHOICE (or another entity to whom you made a disclosure protected by the whistleblower laws, such as ASIC) written notice that identifies the previous disclosure and states your intention to make an emergency disclosure;

(d) you report your concerns to a journalist or member of parliament

(e) and the extent of information disclosed is no greater than is necessary to inform the journalist or member of parliament of the substantial and imminent danger.

8. Confidentiality

Where your disclosure is protected by whistleblower laws, your disclosure will be treated with the utmost confidentiality and your identity will be protected.

CHOICE will obtain your consent before disclosing your identity. The only exceptions to this are when reporting to ASIC, APRA, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) or a legal practitioner for the purposes of obtaining legal advice about whistleblower laws.

CHOICE may disclose to relevant persons the existence of a whistleblower disclosure for the purpose of conducting an investigation. However, this will not include disclosure of your identity unless you consent to this occurring. When making such a disclosure, CHOICE will take all reasonable steps to reduce the risk of your identity being discovered.

CHOICE could make a disclosure to any of:

  • the Chair of the Board, Chair of the Finance, Risk and Audit Committee, Chief Executive Officer or Director, Commercial and Finance
  • People & Culture or other managers to make inquiries or to conduct investigations or order external investigations as is deemed appropriate; 
  • respondents to complaints, to ensure that the person/s against whom allegations are made are given the opportunity to respond to any allegations; and
  • any person who is required to give evidence as part of the investigation process. Any breach of these confidentiality protections attract significant fines for both individuals and companies. 

9. Immunity for disclosure

If you make a disclosure protected by whistleblower laws, you cannot be subject to any civil or criminal liability for making the disclosure and cannot be subject to any contractual breach or other civil claim on the basis of the disclosure.

No contract of employment or contract for services can be terminated on the basis that a protected disclosure constitutes a breach of contract.

10. Victimisation

CHOICE will not condone anyone: 

(a) conducting themselves in a way that causes harm to you because you have made a disclosure about a protected matter pursuant to whistleblower laws; or 

(b) carrying out any threats to cause harm to you or anyone (whether express or implied threats) because you made a disclosure about a protected matter pursuant to whistleblower laws. 

The whistleblower laws also prohibit any person from victimising you because you have made a protected disclosure. Where someone conducts themselves or makes threats as described in paragraphs (a) or (b) above, CHOICE may initiate disciplinary action in relation to that person. In addition the person engaging in such conduct will be in breach of the whistleblower laws which means that significant fines could apply. If you are adversely impacted by any victimisation, you may obtain compensation orders from a court in relation to any harm or detriment caused. 

11. Reporting and investigating protected matters 

You may disclose protected matters by either of the following steps: 

(a) You may submit a written complaint or report and any relevant documentation on any protected matters to one of the people identified in section 6 of this policy. That person will report the concerns to the Whistleblower Protection Officer (the Director of People and Culture). 

(b) If you have a concern about reporting to one of the people described in section 6 of this policy (for example you reasonably believe that your manager is involved in the protected matters or you do not feel comfortable reporting it to your manager for any other reason), then you may submit a report directly to the Whistleblower Protection Officer. 

When you report the protected matter, please try to provide as much information as possible including but not limited to the following: 

  • the nature of the alleged misconduct, or improper state of affairs or circumstances; 
  • the person or persons alleged to be involved; 
  • the facts which have created reasonable grounds for you to suspect that misconduct has occurred or there has been an improper state of affairs or circumstances; 
  • any supporting documentary evidence; and 
  • the nature and whereabouts of any further evidence which may substantiate the allegations. 

CHOICE will refer your protected matters to the Whistleblower Protection Officer for investigation, to determine whether misconduct or some other improper state of affairs or circumstances exists.

In investigating the relevant matters, the Whistleblower Protection Officer will comply with the confidentiality obligations outlined in Section 8 of this policy.

The Whistleblower Protection Officer may alternatively:

  • appoint an appropriately qualified and impartial person or entity to investigate the relevant matters; or
  • refer protected matters directly to ASIC, APRA or the AFP.

Whilst every investigation process will differ according to the relevant circumstances, the Whistleblower Protection Officer will ordinarily ensure that appropriate actions are taken to determine whether:

(a) the allegations are substantiated; and

(b) any action needs to be taken in order to address any established misconduct or other improper state of affairs or circumstances.

Where you, or the person you report your disclosure to, has a reasonable belief that the Whistleblower Protection Officer is involved in the protected matters, the person you made the disclosure to will refer the matter to another appropriate senior manager at CHOICE for investigation. Before doing so, the person who received the disclosure will seek your permission to disclose to the senior manager your identity. You will not be obliged to disclose your identity but doing so may assist with the investigation of the complaint. The senior manager, once informed of the matter, will investigate the matter in accordance with this Policy and take all reasonable steps to protect your identity.

12. Supporting whistleblowers, providing fair treatment and protection from harm

CHOICE will support you in relation to the reporting of any protected matters and has in place procedures to promote fair treatment and protection from harm by:

  • providing access to counselling services (These services may be accessed by contacting Access EAP on 1800 81 87 28.)
  • investigating complaints in accordance with the procedures outlined in this Policy
  • conducting investigations in a manner that is procedurally fair to both you and respondents to allegations
  • in situations where you consent, having an appropriate senior manager or member of the CHOICE People and Culture team contact you at appropriate intervals to check on your welfare and ensure that you are not subject to victimisation
  • communicating this Policy to all CHOICE’s employees, officers and contractors
  • taking appropriate disciplinary action against any employees or contractors that breach the victimisation or confidentiality provisions of this policy or the whistleblower laws.

All employees and contractors of CHOICE are required to comply with this Policy at all times as well as with whistleblower laws.

Failure to comply with this Policy or whistleblower laws may result in disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment or termination of a contractor’s services.

13. Variations

This policy may be varied, amended, replaced or terminated from time to time and at any time at the absolute discretion of CHOICE.

Last updated 1 January 2020