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Protect, Not Punish: Whistleblower prosecutions and Australian journalism

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Protect, Not Punish: Whistleblower prosecutions and Australian journalism

Join Sami Shah, Kieran Pender, Rick Morton, and Karen Percy for an urgent discussion on whistleblower prosecutions and journalism

Date and time

Wednesday, April 17 · 6:30 – 7:30pm AEST


Forum Theatre, Arts West Building, University of Melbourne

Royal Parade Parkville, VIC 3052

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About this event

  • 1 hour

Together with the Centre for Advancing Journalism, PEN Melbourne invites you to join Kieran Pender, Karen Percy, Rick Morton and host Sami Shah for a conversation about the critical role of whistleblowers in our media landscape, the urgent need for whistleblower protection and the potential consequences for Australian democracy if whistleblowers are silenced.

Currently in Australia, two whistleblowers, David McBride and Richard Boyle, are facing prosecution, and if convicted could face lengthy sentences for speaking out about alleged government wrongdoing in the Australian Defence Force and the Australian Tax Office respectively.

McBride and Boyle followed the 2013 Public Interest Disclosure Act (the PID Act) that was meant to protect them. Only when blowing the whistle internally to the ADF and the ATO, then taking their cases to oversight agencies didn’t work, did they speak to the ABC.

Now, both McBride and Boyle are looking at lengthy prison sentences if convicted of speaking out in opposition to wrongdoing that has since been verified by independent inquiries.

Without the courage of whistleblowers who speakout, public interest journalism is diminished. The prosecution and punishment of whistleblowers leads to self-censorship of critical voices and is seen to protect and cover-up alleged corrupt or illegal activities of governments and organisations.

The protection of whistleblowers and their anonymous sources is crucial for press freedom and the public’s right to know in Australia. Kieran Pender, Rick Morton, and Karen Percy come together for this special event, with host Sami Shah, to discuss the impacts of whistleblower prosecutions on Australian journalism.

This event is supported by the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund.


Sami Shah

Sami Shah is a multi-award winning writer, comedian, and broadcaster. He’s been profiled in the New York Times, ABC’s The Australian Story, BBC Radio 4, NPR, and appeared on QI with Stephen Fry, and The Project. His autobiography, “I, MIGRANT” (Allen & Unwin) has been nominated for the NSW Premier’s Literary Award, WA Premier’s Literary Award, and the Russell Prize for Humour Writing. His first novel “FIRE BOY”(Fantastica) was released in 2016, with its sequel “EARTH BOY” in 2017. It is now available in South Asia as “BOY OF FIRE AND EARTH” (Picador). His latest non-fiction book is “THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF AUSTRALIA”. He has also published multiple short stories, essays, and columns for national and international newspapers and magazines, short stories for anthologies, documentaries for radio, and was co-presenter of ABC Radio Melbourne Breakfast. Sami is currently based in Melbourne, Australia and is Ambassador – at – large of PEN International Melbourne Centre.

Kieran Pender

Kieran Pender is a senior lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre and an internationally-recognised authority on whistleblower protections. Since joining the Centre in 2020, Kieran has led the establishment of the Whistleblower Project, an Australia-first specialist legal service for whistleblowers. He is also an honorary lecturer at the ANU College of Law, and an award-winning writer.

Karen Percy

Karen Percy is a veteran news reporter, with more than 35 years experience, including a stint as a foreign correspondent. She is passionate about gender equity and diversity, and a strong advocate for ethical journalism and press freedom. Karen is the elected Federal President of the Media section of the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance – the union for journalists – and Deputy Chair of the Walkley Foundation.

Rick Morton

Rick Morton is an award-winning journalist and the author of three non-fiction books. He is the Senior Reporter for The Saturday Paper. Originally from Queensland, Rick worked in Sydney, Hobart, Melbourne and Canberra as the social affairs writer for The Australian with a particular focus on social policy including the National Disability Insurance Scheme, aged care, the welfare system, religion and employment services.

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People say that (writers) are pretty powerless: we don’t have an army, we don’t have a bureaucracy. But if that were true, then why would writers be arrested?... Because the spoken word is powerful.

— John Ralston Saul on the work of PEN International