Assessing whether a report is a PID

Use this criteria to assess if a report of wrongdoing is a public interest disclosure (PID) under the Public Interest Disclosures Act 1994 (PID Act).

A PID can only be made by a current NSW public official – see Who can make a PID.

For a person to be protected by the PID Act, they need to make their PID to the right person – see Who can receive a PID.

Wrongdoing under the PID Act

The PID Act covers the following types of wrongdoing:

Corrupt conduct

Corrupt conduct is defined in sections 8 and 9 of the Independent Commission Against Corruption Act 1988 (ICAC Act). It involves deliberate or intentional wrongdoing involving (or affecting) a public official or public authority in NSW.

The definition provided in these sections is intentionally broad, and includes:

  • conduct of any person that adversely affects, or could adversely affect, either directly or indirectly, the honest or impartial exercise of official functions by any public official, any group or body of public officials or any public authority
  • any conduct of a public official that constitutes or involves the dishonest or partial exercise of any of their official functions
  • any conduct of a public official or former public official that constitutes or involves a breach of public trust
  • any conduct of a public official or former public official that involves the misuse of information or material that they acquired in the course of their official functions, whether or not for their benefit or for the benefit of any other person.

For conduct to be considered corrupt under the ICAC Act definition, it has to be serious enough to involve a criminal or disciplinary offence, be grounds for dismissal or, in the case of Members of Parliament, involve a substantial breach of their code of conduct. ICAC advises that initially you need not know with any certainty that this seriousness test can be satisfied as this will often be known only after a full investigation.


There are three elements to maladministration under the PID Act;

  1. Is the action/inaction complained of administrative in nature?

    There must be a relationship between the relevant wrongdoing and the public authority or public official’s powers, functions, or duties. Consider whether the conduct arose in the exercise of a power, function or duty of the relevant public authority or public official.

  2. Do any of the grounds of maladministration apply?

    The allegation must relate to conduct that is:

    • contrary to law, or
    • unreasonable, unjust, oppressive, or improperly discriminatory, or
    • based wholly or partly on improper motives.
  3. Is the alleged action/inaction serious?

This means of a degree of gravity that is more than trifling or trivial. Consider the nature of the conduct and its likely (not actual) consequences and the following factors (this is not an exhaustive list, and no factor is more important than any other):

  • the extent to which the action or inaction may undermine public confidence or trust in the relevant public authority or in public administration generally
  • whether the conduct is of sufficient gravity that it would warrant the person being dismissed, removed, disciplined, or punished
  • the extent to which the conduct is contrary to prohibitions which are integral to the relevant rules, industry standards or regulatory scheme
  • the likelihood, scope and degree of any consequences or harm which may be caused by the conduct
  • whether the action or inaction has implications for the relevant public authority, public administration, or the wider community generally (rather than just for the individual disclosing the conduct)
  • the degree of intent or improper purpose involved
  • the fact that conduct was 'deliberate' (as opposed to accidental, negligent or reckless), or done with a disregard of the lives or safety of others
  • the degree of responsibility and seniority of, or trust placed in, the public authority or public official
  • the duration, frequency or history of the action or inaction
  • where the conduct involves money or property, the quantum involved.

Serious and substantial waste

Serious and substantial waste of public money is any uneconomical, inefficient or ineffective use of resources, authorised or unauthorised, which results in losing or wasting public money or resources.

Serious and substantial waste can be:

  • absolute– where the waste is regarded as significant
  • systemic – where the waste indicates a pattern that results from a weakness within an organisation’s systems
  • material– where the waste is about the authority’s expenditure or a particular item of expenditure or is to such an extent that it affects an authority’s capacity to perform its primary functions.

Some examples are:

  • misappropriation or misuse of public property
  • the purchase of unnecessary or inadequate goods and services
  • overstaffing in particular areas
  • staff being remunerated for skills they do not have, but are required to have under the terms or conditions of their employment
  • programs not achieving their objectives and therefore the program’s costs being clearly ineffective and inefficient
  • not following a competitive tendering process for a large-scale contract
  • having poor or no processes in place for a system involving large amounts of public funds.

Waste can result from such things as:

  • insufficient safeguards to prevent the theft or misuse of public property
  • purchasing practices that do not ensure goods and services are necessary and adequate for their intended purpose
  • poor recruiting practices.

Government information contravention

A government information contravention is conduct that constitutes a failure to exercise functions in accordance with any provision of the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (GIPA Act).

Pecuniary interest contravention (applies to local government only)

A local government pecuniary interest contravention is a failure to comply with requirements under the Local Government Act 1993 relating to the management of pecuniary interests. A pecuniary interest is an interest a person has in a matter because of a reasonable likelihood or expectation of appreciable financial gain or loss to the person. Requirements include obligations to lodge disclosure of interests returns, disclose pecuniary interests at council and council committee meetings, and leave the meeting while the matter is being discussed.

Some examples are:

  • a senior council staff member recommending a family member for a council contract and not declaring the relationship
  • a councillor participating in consideration of a development application for a property they or their family have an interest in.

The threshold test

When a public authority assesses a report against the PID Act criteria, they must consider the Act’s threshold test. To meet this test:

  • the reporter must honestly believe the report
  • the report must be based on reasonable grounds
  • the report must shows or tend to show one of the types of wrongdoing in the PID Act.

Make sure reporters understand they should not attempt to investigate, i.e. try to obtain evidence themselves. This may jeopardise the investigation and risk the reporter breaching your agency’s policies.

Reporters also need to know it is an offence to intentionally make a false or misleading report of wrongdoing – there are penalties of up to 50 penalty units or 12 months' imprisonment, or both.

It is not an offence to make a PID where the reporter honestly believes the information is true, and a subsequent investigation determines it is not. In those cases, the reporter is still protected by the PID Act.

Honest belief

An honest belief is a belief that is genuinely held. It is more than suspicion, speculation, or reliance on a rumour.

A reporter’s motive for making a PID is usually irrelevant to PID assessment – the key question is whether they believe the information is true. Unless presented with evidence to the contrary, you should assume that PIDs are made in good faith and the reporter has an honest belief.

Reasonable grounds

This is an objective test. Would a reasonable person in the circumstances believe that wrongdoing had occurred? The belief cannot be based on personal favouritism, animosity or prejudice.

Consider what information might be available to the reporter, and how they might have come across that information. It is preferable that a reporter has factual material and personal knowledge of events and conduct, but this is not always necessary. The information provided does not have to amount to evidence (admissible or otherwise) nor direct knowledge of events and conduct. It can include information and things that may not be capable of being admitted as evidence in a court, such as hearsay (i.e. what someone told the reporter) and opinion.

It is important to distinguish between purely speculative allegations and reports where a reporter may not be able to provide information about all aspects of the allegation, i.e. the report may be based on less than perfect knowledge and information.

When the reporter is anonymous and unable to be contacted, you will often have little or no information about the reporter’s sources of information (because they are seeking to hide their identity). In this case, you should assess any other inferences that can be drawn from the information provided. For example, consider if they have provided detailed information about the alleged wrongdoing, even if there is limited information about how they know.

Shows or tends to show

There must be sufficient information to show or tend to show that the wrongdoing has happened, is happening or will happen (noting that PIDs can also relate to future events). This may include:

  • direct observation of the wrongdoing by the reporter
  • corroborative observation by others
  • evidence such as unbalanced accounts, missing items of value or contradictory records.

Sufficient detail should be provided to help you make this assessment.

The reporter may provide factual information such as:

  • what occurred
  • who was involved
  • when the wrongdoing occurred
  • where the wrongdoing happened
  • further information or evidence that would assist in any investigation
  • why the conduct was wrong (i.e. unlawful or unreasonable).

Information ‘shows’ (even if it does not prove) if – on its face – it relates or shows that the conduct occurred, and why that conduct was wrong. This is a higher standard than ‘tends to show’.

Information ‘tends to show’ if it shows the relevant conduct is likely or probably occurred, or likely or probably would be engaged in. It can also be information that indirectly helps to show the relevant conduct occurred in some way. It is not enough that it only shows a possibility that that conduct might have occurred or might possibly be engaged in.

It is not necessary for the reporter to provide sufficient information to conclusively establish or prove that the wrongdoing occurred to any investigative standard of proof. However, the report cannot be based on a mere allegation or suspicion that is unsupported by any facts, circumstances, or evidence. This means the assessment may be affected by the information being too general or lacking specifics.


The PID Act details circumstances when a report is not a PID.

When it primarily questions the merits of government policy, including local government (section 17 PID Act)

For state government public authorities and officers, this excludes any reports which, at their core, criticise the formal policies of the executive arm of government—for example, the Cabinet, the Premier of NSW or another minister.

For a council or county council, this excludes reports that essentially criticise any formal policy of the council’s governing body—that is, the elected councillors.

Government policy should not be confused with organisational or administrative policy, which concerns the procedural issues or routine practices of an authority. These policies do not set the agenda for an authority but provide the mechanisms for achieving the agenda set by the government of the day or elected council.

The PID Act may apply to reports relating to government policy if they focus on the adequacy of the advice given by a public official or authority. However, they cannot principally involve questioning the merits of the adopted policy. For example, a report criticising the government’s decision to close a particular school would not be a PID. However, a report alleging that corrupt conduct in closing the school (for example school computers were sold to staff) could be a PID.

When it is motivated by the object of avoiding disciplinary action (section 18 PID Act)

Some people may make a report because they have been involved in wrongdoing or their performance has been unsatisfactory, and they want to allege that any subsequent dismissal or disciplinary action is a reprisal.

Deciding a report was made solely or substantially to avoid dismissal or disciplinary action requires assessing the subjective (i.e. actual) motive of the reporter. The fact that making the report resulted in the consequences being avoided is not sufficient — you must be able to prove that the reporter intended to avoid disciplinary action.

If you believe that a PID has been made with the intention of avoiding dismissal or disciplinary action, the rules of procedural fairness require that the reporter be given an opportunity to be heard (whether by a hearing or in writing). You should give the reporter an opportunity to be heard and then complete your agency’s PID assessment template before taking any action.

If the report is not a PID

All reports of wrongdoing from staff should be taken seriously. Whether a report is assessed as a PID or not, it should be dealt with through the appropriate internal processes. For more information, see Effective complaint handling.

If the report is not a PID, let the staff member know. You can use our template Letter for public authorities concern raised.

Guidance for assessing a PID

For guidance and templates to help assess whether a report of wrongdoing is a PID, see:

Get help

The NSW Ombudsman provides advice and assistance with handling PIDs and understanding the PID Act. Contact our Public Interest Disclosure Unit on 02 9286 1000 or email