Opinion: Whistleblowers’ claims must be scrutinised

19 May 2024

FORMER Army legal officer David McBride was jailed this week for the unlawful removal of highly classified documents and for releasing information contained therein.

McBride’s supporters have compared him with the arch-narcissist Julian Assange, describing both as “whistleblowers”.

A whistleblower might be loosely described as someone with inside knowledge of an organisation who reports misconduct or dishonest or illegal activity that may have occurred within that organisation.

A more precise definition might be someone with inside knowledge of an organisation who believes misconduct or dishonest or illegal activity may have occurred within that organisation and selectively attempts to justify that belief.

McBride’s father Dr William McBride was best remembered for having correctly exposed in a professional paper links between the drug Thalidomide and multiple birth defects.

He was later deregistered for deliberately falsifying data claiming another drug Debendox also caused birth defects.

Without visiting the sins of the father on the son, the point is claims made by so-called “whistleblowers” should undergo thorough scrutiny rather than unquestioning acceptance.

Supposedly the essence of McBride’s claims was his belief allegations of criminal behaviour by junior ranks in Afghanistan were being pursued aggressively by senior commanders while their own actions in those same events were not being reciprocally scrutinised.

Other reports this week suggest parliamentary concern the Brereton report into these matters erred by recommending senior officers not suffer the same awards forfeiture as has been decreed for junior ranks.

It has also been suggested Minister Marles has been procrastinating over the issue.

Ironically McBride may yet achieve his desired outcome by possibly compromising further investigation into the matter.

He could have simply based his concerns on the Yamashita Principle allowing that process to occur.

The US Naval War College defined the Yamashita Principle establishing a rule that a military commander was responsible for the breaches of law committed by members of his command whether or not he personally knew about them.

An extension says it applies as long as the commander did not attempt to discover and stop them from occurring.

McMahon’s sentencing coincided with the Budget, which seemed to offer nothing unexpected for Defence.

As every household knows a budget is only viable until the first unexpected event.

Amid the usual weasel wording the Government committed to increasing spending to 2.12 per cent of GDP by 2027-28, time for McBride to complete his custodial sentence and at least one small war.