I recently bought a pair of Whippets off the forums for use exactly as you describe.
In use as poles, they're not too diabolical, especially since they come with covers for the self arrest blade. I actually found them quite useful for lots of prying/scraping/chopping activities that occur when the (winter) weather here craps out.
Having said that, they're not an axe, and not as effective for self arrest. It is a narrower cross section blade that slices through the snow more than a BD Raven, even with the 90 degree section of blade. In self arrest, the pole/handle is longer and more likely to catch (but less likely to impale you than a 60-75cm axe)
The longer shaft, especially if you use two, or one plus a regular pole, is likely to mean less chance of a slide if you're traversing or descending a steep icy slope than with an axe, but similar to two poles. On anything steep enough to arrest, I wouldn't use the wrist loops.
I second the recommendation on Craig Connally's book, and suggest www.bookdepository.com as the cheapest way to get it in Oz.
Unless you're getting into the properly steep stuff in Australia, you'll probably do just fine with a pair of regular poles, using the points to self arrest. If I was sliding that regularly, I'd be inclined to think about more aggressive snowshoes (MSRs) or crampons first.