Ombudsman's audit report recommends improvements to councils' public interest disclosure practices

21 Nov 2022

A report by the NSW Ombudsman tabled today, has highlighted the importance of local councils having systems in place to ensure that public interest disclosures (PIDs) are encouraged, identified, and reported.

The report, titled Public Interest Disclosures Act 1994 Audit Report: Summary of Public Interest Disclosure Audits of 6 Local Councils, outlines the findings of audits conducted on 6 local councils under the Public Interests Disclosure Act 1994.

All 6 audited councils had reported not receiving any public interest disclosures (PIDs) in the three years of 2018 to 2020.

“PIDs are not inherently a bad thing – they are an important early mechanism for organisations to identify and correct wrongdoing. They should be encouraged.” said NSW Ombudsman, Paul Miller.

The purpose of the audit was to identify whether there were issues in the audited councils’ culture, systems or practices that could be resulting in one or more of the following:

  • barriers, including behavioural or cultural barriers, to public officials making PIDs.
  • the council not identifying disclosures as PIDs.
  • the council identifying but not reporting PIDs.

The audit findings were mixed, with some of the councils showing positive or improving PID practices in some areas, such as by undertaking more deliberate PID awareness raising activities with staff. However, several risks were identified in the key findings, including cultural barriers to reporting and limited staff awareness, training, and access to PID policies and information.

The audits included Councils of varied sizes and geographical locations. The Councils were from metropolitan, regional, and metro-fringe areas, and all had between 500 to 1500 staff.

The purpose of the public report on these audits is not about identifying specific Council’s practices, but about looking at whether there may be systemic learnings for the local government sector more generally.

“Although limited to these 6 councils, there are lessons in this report more generally for the local government sector in how to better promote positive PID handling practices and reporting culture.” Mr Miller said.

The report details the 10 recommendations made to the audited councils; however, Mr Miller urges all local councils and agencies in NSW to review these findings as they may be relevant to their organisation.

The release of this report coincides with recently enacted changes to the public interest disclosure scheme in NSW, with a new Public Interest Disclosures Act 2022 commencing in October 2023.

Download the report from the NSW Ombudsman website.