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Female whistle blowers paying the price of truth

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Summary of story from the Herald Sun, November 20, 2011.

What is it about women that makes them such prodigious whistleblowers? Kathy Jackson is one of those women.

Last week the national secretary of the Health Services Union (Australia), refused to back down from a jeering mob at the scandal-racked organisation’s annual conference.

Jackson is fighting to clean up the HSU and no amount of name-calling, shovels at her front door, intimidation and votes of no confidence will stop her.

“I’m going nowhere,” she said last week. “They’re not used to people telling them they’re doing the wrong thing (and) they’re trying to shoot the messenger.”

Jackson is not afraid to take on the union movement’s entrenched male power elites – and the membership is quietly behind her.

There’s a lot at stake, with the Gillard Government’s one-seat majority in the balance as police investigate Jackson’s HSU predecessor, federal Labor MP Craig Thomson, over misuse of union funds (for details of the allegations against Thomson, see The Guardian).

Jackson, 45, never saw herself as a feminist superhero, but her determination to stand up to union bully boys is fast making her an inspiration to other women.

So, too, is Gillian Sneddon, the former electorate officer of the jailed paedophile and former New South Wales Labor minister Milton Orkopoulos.

Sneddon, 53, was the first to blow the whistle on the MP’s sordid activities. For her trouble she was sacked, locked out of her office and had her good name dragged through the mud.

Yesterday, she told the Whistleblowers Australia annual conference that people had been raising the alarm about Orkopoulos long before he entered parliament. Yet he went on to become Aboriginal Affairs minister, bringing him into contact with some of the state’s most vulnerable children.

“I thought that what I did in reporting allegations made to me first by one young man and then another that they had been sexually abused by my boss, Milton Orkopoulos, was the right, the legal and the responsible thing to do,” she told the conference.

“I thought it was what everyone else in my position would have done. How wrong I was.

“I came to understand the forces of power which mustered, by accident or design, to protect an accused paedophile and discredit his accuser.”

She said Orkopoulos should have been stood aside while police investigated child sexual abuse allegations against him.

“Instead … he was left with all the resources of the electorate office with which to protect himself and cover up his crimes.”

Both women were single mothers and both have suffered greatly as a result of their ethical resistance.

Jackson is still under attack and was hospitalised at one point after suffering a nervous breakdown. Sneddon lost her job and went through a period of depression.

Yet these women endure and inspire other women to speak out against corruption and abuse of power.

In the US, the role of women blowing the whistle on corporate misdeeds has been extraordinary – from Sherron Watkins at Enron to Genevievette Walker-Lightfoot in the Madoff fraud case to A.K. Barnett-Hart, the investment bank intern who first raised the alarm on the sub-prime mortgage crisis.

What is it about women that makes them willing to risk all to do the right thing? It can’t be that women are more ethical than men. But do they possess a special intuition to detect wrongdoing before their male colleagues?

Or is it the fact that in male-dominated workplaces they are less likely to be team players because they are excluded from the mates network and thus are able to judge ethical breaches dispassionately?

Are they less greedy for power and wealth and therefore less afraid to rock the boat? Or are they more in touch with the real world because they are used to running households.

WVoN comment:  Whatever the reason – and I’m not at all convinced this is a gender issue rather than an ‘individual’ issue – I’m fairly convinced that it’s not because women are ‘used to running households’.  You can’t make this stuff up!

  1. vicki wharton says:

    I would surmise that its less a question of inherent biology, but more a question of culture. Women in general are subject to far more ethical scrutiny in their lives – from their conduct to their children, husbands/partners to their conduct in their jobs. When you are kept to a tighter path in your own life and subject to far more stringent accountability for personal conduct, wrongdoing becomes a lot clearer to see in the world around you – there’s simply less smoke and mirrors in the world around you.

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