Thinking about reporting serious wrongdoing?
The Public Interest Disclosures Act 1994 sets in place a system to encourage people who work in the public sector to report serious wrongdoing without fear of being sued for defamation or breach of confidence.
Some people may have concerns that if they report wrongdoing their colleagues or managers will take detrimental action against them. The public interest disclosures system deters this kind of reaction by providing that the taking of detrimental action in reprisal is:
- a criminal offence
- grounds for disciplinary action
- grounds for you to sue them for damages.
Public interest disclosure or grievance?
To receive the protections under the public interest disclosures system, your concerns must be about wrongdoing that is so serious that it is clearly in the interests of the citizens of NSW that you report it. Any concerns that relate to the way someone’s behaviour is affecting you as an individual are more appropriately dealt with through a grievance process. This includes, for example, actions or decisions by managers or others employees that you believe involve inequitable treatment in the workplace, harassment or bullying that affect you personally (other than where this is part of a course of conduct, particularly of a general practice affecting a number of staff).
You should consider reporting wrongdoing through the public interest disclosures system if your concerns are about:
- corrupt conduct
- serious maladministration
- serious and substantial waste
- a failure to comply with the system through which people can access government information (Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009)
- a breach of local government pecuniary interest requirements.
What you should do
To receive the protections under the public interest disclosures system, you must disclose information that you honestly believe shows, or tends to show, the wrongdoing that you allege.
You must also have reasonable grounds for your belief. So think about what documents or other evidence may support your version of events. Provide any evidence you have, or information about where evidence can be found, in support of your report.
It is important that the information you provide is clear, accurate and factual. If you have documents to support your allegations, try to make them available. This will help the organisation focus on the real issues and fix real problems.
Avoid speculation or emotive language: it is likely to divert attention from the real issues.
You should not investigate the matter yourself as this could hinder any future official investigation. Also do not do anything illegal to find evidence.
Who you can report to
You can report serious wrongdoing to the principal officer in your organisation. This may be your Secretary, Chief Executive or General Manager. Your organisation is required by law to have an internal reporting policy that tells you who else you can make a disclosure to. If it doesn’t, or if you have reasons to doubt your organisation’s capacity to do something about the wrongdoing you have observed, you can report wrongdoing to an investigating authority:
- serious maladministration to the NSW Ombudsman
- corrupt conduct by a public official to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC)
- serious and substantial waste to the NSW Auditor General
- government information contravention to the Information Commissioner NSW
- serious wrongdoing in a council (of any of the above categories) to the Office of Local Government
- serious wrongdoing by a police officer or Crime Commission officer (of any of the above categories) to the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC).
Wrongdoing by an investigating authority or its officers can be reported to the authority’s principal officer or an officer nominated in the authority’s policy. In certain circumstances, the PID Act may also apply to reports made to another investigating authority. Reports alleging serious maladministration, corrupt conduct or serious and substantial waste by the ICAC or the LECC, for example, can be made to the Inspector of the ICAC or the Inspector of the LECC.
For further information, read our guideline B4, Reporting pathways.
If you are worried about reprisals
The public interest disclosures system provides a legal framework to deter people from responding to your report of wrongdoing in a way that hurts or disadvantages you. You are in the best position to judge how people in your workplace will react if you report wrongdoing and they find out.
If you are worried about reprisal, talk to someone you trust about your situation. You can talk to one of our staff members who has experience in these kinds of matters. Sometimes keeping your disclosure confidential will give you the best protection, but this will not always be possible.
What should happen
Your organisation is required by law to have an internal reporting policy that sets out the process that they will follow if you report wrongdoing to the principal officer or someone else who works there. If you report the wrongdoing to an investigating authority, they will tell you their processes.
No matter where you report the wrongdoing, the public authority is required to:
- acknowledge that they have received your disclosure
- tell you what they have decided to do in response (within six months of you reporting)
- keep your identity confidential if possible (for further information, read our guideline C7, Confidentiality).
For more information, please read our Fact sheet 3 Thinking about reporting serious wrongdoing or Fact sheet 4, Thinking about reporting serious wrongdoing in local government.
If you have further questions about making a report or about the obligations of your organisation, you can contact the PID Unit on 02 9286 1000 or email email@example.com.
- What should be reported?
- What's not a public interest disclosure?
- Public interest disclosures fact sheet
- Thinking about reporting serious wrong doing?