Making a public interest disclosure (whistleblowing)
A public interest disclosure is when a public official reports serious wrongdoing in their workplace, or in another public authority. Serious wrongdoing includes:
- corrupt conduct
- serious maladministration
- serious and substantial waste of public money.
Public interest disclosures were previously referred to as protected disclosure or whistleblower complaints.
For guidance on managing public interest disclosures in your workplace, see Handling public interest disclosures (whistleblowing).
Step 1. Check who can make a disclosure
You must be a public official to make a public interest disclosure. Public officials include:
- Public sector employees – including:
- staff at government departments and agencies
- teachers and staff at public schools and universities
- public hospital staff
- local government councillors and staff.
- Private sector employees providing contracted services to a public authority – for example, cleaners, security guards and tradespeople.
- Some public sector volunteers – including members of boards or committees.
- Some staff and volunteers of non-government organisations.
In most cases, to be protected by the Public Interest Disclosures Act 1994, you must be a public official at the time of making the disclosure.
For full definitions of public official and public authority, see Public Interest Disclosures Act 1994.
Step 2. Check what you can report
You can make a public interest disclosure about:
- Corrupt conduct – for example, fraud, dishonesty or misuse of information.
- Serious maladministration – for example, unreasonable, unjust or discriminatory conduct.
- Serious and substantial waste of public money.
- Breaching the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (GIPA Act).
- Breaching a pecuniary interest obligation in the Local Government Act 1993. For example, a councillor involved in a development application for a property they or their family have an interest in.
What you cannot report
If you're making a complaint about the way someone’s behaviour is affecting you – for example, harassment or bullying – this will generally not be a public interest disclosure. You can talk to your manager or human resources staff about these types of complaints.
Reporting serious wrongdoing is not a public interest disclosure if:
- it's made primarily to avoid dismissal or disciplinary action
- it questions the merits of government policy.
Step 3. Check who you can report to
You can report serious wrongdoing to the person responsible for dealing with public interest disclosures in your workplace.
All public sector authorities must have an internal reporting policy. This should tell you the process for dealing with public interest disclosures and the details of people who you can report to.
Reporting to an investigating authority
You can contact an investigating authority if:
- your workplace doesn't have an internal reporting policy
- you don't want to report internally, or
- you have already reported internally, but you're not satisfied with the outcome.
Each investigating authority is responsible for investigating different types of wrongdoing, including:
- Serious maladministration to the NSW Ombudsman – see How to make a complaint
- Corrupt conduct to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC)
- Serious and substantial waste to the NSW Auditor General
- Breaches of the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 to the Information Commissioner NSW
- Serious wrongdoing in a local council to the Office of Local Government
- Serious wrongdoing by a police officer or Crime Commission officer to the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC)
For a full definition of investigating authority, see Public Interest Disclosures Act 1994.
Reporting to a Member of Parliament or journalist
In some circumstances, you can make a public interest disclosure to a Member of Parliament (MP) or a journalist. You must meet certain criteria to do this.
We recommend getting advice before making a disclosure to an MP or journalist. If you don't meet the criteria, you won't be protected by the Public Interest Disclosures Act 1994.
Step 4. Make your disclosure
The information in your disclosure should:
- explain the problem and your allegations
- include supporting information and/or documents.
You can choose to be anonymous when you make your report. It is important to provide as much detailed information as possible. This helps the assessment and investigation process.
How your disclosure is handled
When you make a disclosure, your workplace or the investigating authority must:
- provide a copy of the policy for dealing with public interest disclosures
- acknowledge receipt of your disclosure (within 45 days)
- let you know what action they will take (within 6 months)
- keep your identity confidential, if possible.
They may investigate your complaint or refer it to another public authority or investigating agency.
How you're protected
When you make a public interest disclosure, you're protected under the Public Interest Disclosures Act 1994. For example, it's a criminal offence for someone to cause you injury, harass you, or discriminate against you for making the disclosure.
Step 5. If you're not satisfied with the outcome
If you're not happy with the way your report was handled, you can make a complaint to NSW Ombudsman – see How to make a complaint.
If you're not happy with the outcome of your report, you can contact the relevant investigating agency (see Step 3).
It's a good idea to get advice when thinking about reporting serious wrongdoing. To be protected under the Public Interest Disclosures Act 1994, you must make your disclosure to the right person or authority.
You can get advice from the person in your workplace who deals with public interest disclosures. You can also contact us for advice.
It's best not to tell anyone else that you're thinking about reporting serious wrongdoing.