Am I dealing with a public interest disclosure?

This page sets out a step-by-step guide to assist public sector managers decide if the Public Interest Disclosures Act 1994 (PID Act) applies when a staff member raises concerns. It also gives some practical tips on how to manage these situations.

The scenario

A member of staff raises serious concerns with you

Descision tree to determine if the disclosure is a Public Interest Disclosure

It may be a public interest disclosure under the PID Act and by law public authorities must:

  • acknowledge receipt of the PID and provide the staff member with a copy of your internal reporting policy within 45 days (but preferably much sooner)
  • assess the PID and decide what action you will take
  • keep details about the PID confidential, where practical and appropriate
  • tell the member of staff - within six months - what action your authority will take or has taken
  • report the matter to ICAC if you suspect on reasonable grounds that it concerns or may concern corrupt conduct
  • keep full and accurate records.

Guidance on how to manage the situation

Whether or not it is a public interest disclosure, you should:

1. Support the staff member

If the member of staff genuinely believes there is something seriously amiss with the authority and is sufficiently concerned to report this, the authority has a responsibility to:

  • take them seriously and treat them with respect
  • give the person support in what is commonly a stressful situation (this includes keeping them informed, at least in general terms, of what is being done)
  • protect the person from any repercussions for coming forward (this includes dealing with the matter discreetly if not confidentially, and responding swiftly and fairly to any allegations that reprisal against the person is threatened or has taken place).

2. Be fair to any person who has been accused of wrongdoing

The process of finding out the truth of allegations should be impartial. This means you should not take sides and should not have a preconceived outcome in mind.

Any person who has been accused of wrongdoing must be given an opportunity to put forward their response to any allegations made against them. However, he or she does not have a right to any information about who has made the allegations (except where the matter results in disciplinary or criminal proceedings).

3. Remember the people involved are employees

Be mindful of obligations under work health and safety legislation, the common law duty of care towards all employees, and obligations to comply with principles of good conduct and administrative practice.

4. Don’t forget bystanders

If a matter cannot be dealt with confidentially, be vigilant in preventing gossip, innuendo and paranoia amongst staff who find out that something is going on. Explain to potential witnesses why they are being interviewed or give them some information about the process to contain suspicion and fear.

Remember that reprisal is sometimes taken against a person suspected of making a report, who may not be the person who raised their concerns.

5. Identify opportunities for improvement

Complaints from staff, just like those from external parties, often contain valuable information that can be used to fix problems or improve the way an authority operates.

Try to find out what’s really going on. Do not be tempted to dismiss concerns from a disgruntled staff member who is perceived as a troublemaker. Often it is only the agitators who will speak out. Others may also see problems but have an interest in keeping the peace.

Deal with any problems that are identified.

6. Learn from this experience

Do you need to implement or improve your policies or procedures to make these situations easier to handle in the future?

Contacts

NSW Ombudsman - see below

Independent Commission Against Corruption
Tel:  02 8281 5999 or 1800 463 909 (toll free)
Email:  icac@icac.nsw.gov.au
Web:  www.icac.nsw.gov.au

Information & Privacy Commissioner (NSW)
Tel:  1800 463 626 (free call)
Email:  ipcinfo@ipc.nsw.gov.au
Web:  www.ipc.nsw.gov.au

Office of Local Government
Tel:  02 4428 4100
Email:  olg@olg.nsw.gov.au
Web:  www.olg.nsw.gov.au

NSW Audit Office
Tel:  02 9275 7100
Email: mail@audit.nsw.gov.au
Web:  www.audit.nsw.gov.au

Do you need to educate staff and management to prepare them for the challenges that these situations present and to deter people from taking reprisal against people who report suspected problems? Contact the NSW Ombudsman for advice and information about training options.

Contact us for more information

Level 24,
580 George Street
Sydney NSW 2000
Toll free (outside Sydney metro) 1800 451 524
Email pid@ombo.nsw.gov.au
Web www.ombo.nsw.gov.au

National Relay Service 133 677
Telephone Interpreter Service (TIS) 131 450
We can arrange an interpreter through TIS or you can contact TIS yourself before speaking to us.

© State of New South Wales, March 2019
This publication is released under a Creative Commons license CC BY 4.0.

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