Obligations and responsibilities of state government principal officers

This page sets out the obligations and responsibilities of principal officers in relation to the Public Interest Disclosures Act 1994 (PID Act) and any reports of wrongdoing received by an authority under the Act. Principal officers include directors general and chief executives of NSW public sector authorities.

The obligations of the principal officer:

Public Interest Disclosures Act 1994 The PID Act places specific obligations on the heads of authorities. They are responsible for ensuring that:
  • their authority has an internal reporting policy
  • their staff are aware of the policy and the protections of the PID Act
  • their authority complies with the policy and its obligations under the PID Act
  • at least one officer is responsible for receiving public interest disclosures within their authority.
Government Sector Employment Act 2013 Section 69 (2) of the Government Sector Employment Act 2013 states ‘the head of a government sector agency is responsible for dealing with any misconduct by employees of the agency (or any conviction for a serious offence by any such employee) in accordance with this section’. Under section 69 (1), misconduct extends to:
  • taking any detrimental action (within the meaning of the PID Act) against a person that is substantially in reprisal for the person making a public interest disclosure within the meaning of that Act, and
  • taking any action against another employee of a government sector agency that is substantially in reprisal for a disclosure made by that employee of the alleged misconduct of the employee taking that action.
Code of conduct & ethics for public sector executives

Under the Code, executives have special responsibilities for demonstrating ethical behaviour by virtue of their positions of authority, and high levels of accountability for decision-making and leadership.

Implementing the provisions of the PID Act is one element of this commitment

Premier’s Memorandum M2011-12
Strengthening whistleblower protection
The Premier’s Memorandum M2011-12 states that all authorities need to:
  • ensure that they are aware of the recent changes to the PID Act and staff throughout the organisation are aware
  • operate in accordance with the new strengthened provisions that applied from 1 July 2011
  • adopt a policy for receiving, assessing and dealing with public interest disclosures
Work health & safety and duty of care

Employers are obliged under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 to ensure that staff - including staff that report wrongdoing - have a safe and healthy working environment (eg free from harassment, bullying, discrimination and victimisation).

Under common law, employers have a duty of care to provide a safe workplace for their staff and to take reasonable steps to ensure that their staff do not become ill or injured (eg by preventing reprisals against a staff member who has made a public interest disclosure).

The responsibilities of the principal officer include:

Ensuring the authority has an appropriate system for encouraging staff to report wrongdoing and supporting those that do, by

  • establishing and maintaining a working environment that encourages staff to report wrongdoing
  • establishing an effective internal reporting system to appropriately deal with reports of wrongdoing, support staff who report, and ensure reprisals are not taken against them
  • establishing an internal reporting policy that contains a clear statement signed by the principal officer indicating the principal officer and authority are committed to the highest standards of ethical and accountable conduct and will support staff who report wrongdoing
  • ensuring that staff are aware of the policy and the protections of the PID Act through effective communication and training
  • ensuring that an experienced and skilled disclosures coordinator is responsible for receiving and dealing with reports of wrongdoing within the authority
  • ensuring adequate resources are dedicated towards achieving these outcomes.

Ensuring all reports of wrongdoing are dealt with appropriately and the staff involved are supported, by

  • ensuring that any reports are received and assessed in accordance with the internal reporting policy and procedures
  • referring actual or suspected corrupt conduct to the Independent Commission Against Corruption
  • keeping the identity of the reporter and anyone who is the subject of a report confidential, where this is practical and appropriate
  • ensuring that the principal officer is advised about decisions made on reports and, if further action is recommended, given regular progress updates and a report of the outcome
  • providing adequate resources to any person appointed to investigate a report or to support an reporter
  • ensuring that appropriate systems and strategies are established to minimise any risk of detrimental action in reprisal for a report being made
  • ensuring that the workplace situation is effectively managed, particularly if there is conflict or reprisal is threatened or takes place
  • taking appropriate action against anyone who threatens or takes reprisal against a person for reporting wrongdoing
  • taking appropriate remedial action in response to any findings that substantiate the allegations of wrongdoing
  • implementing any organisational reform that is necessary to address systemic issues identified.

For further information about meeting PID obligations and responsibilities, read the NSW Ombudsman’s public interest disclosures guidelines available on our website.

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

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, May 2014
This publication is released under a Creative Commons license CC BY 4.0.

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