What is a public interest disclosure?
A public interest disclosure is a report made by an individual about:
- improper conduct of public officers or public bodies
- detrimental action that a public officer or public body has taken against a person in reprisal for having made a public interest disclosure or cooperated with the investigation of a public interest disclosure.
Who can make a public interest disclosure?
Any individual (for instance, an employee of the department, a member of the public or a stakeholder) may make a disclosure.
A person who makes a public interest disclosure is known as a discloser, or colloquially as a ‘whistle blower’.
What can I make a public interest disclosure about?
You may make a disclosure about improper conduct and detrimental action taken by public bodies or public officers performing public functions. This includes the department, its offices and agencies as well as statutory authorities in the portfolio of the department.
Improper conduct is defined in the PID Act. Examples of improper conduct include serious professional misconduct, intentional or reckless breach of public trust and conduct adversely affecting the honest performance of a public officer.
A disclosure can relate to conduct or action that:
- may have already taken place
- may be occurring now
- may happen in the future.
How do I make a disclosure?
You can make a disclosure about the department or its staff by contacting the relevant department’s Integrity Unit as follows:
Department of Families, Fairness and Housing
- Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
- Phone – 1300 131 431
- Write to – Public Interest Disclosure Coordinator, Integrity Unit, Department of Families, Fairness and Housing, 50 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne VIC 3000
Department of Health
- Email – email@example.com
- Phone – 1300 024 324
- Write to – Public Interest Disclosures Coordinator, Integrity Prevention and Detection Unit, Department of Health, 50 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne VIC 3000
If you work for either department, you can also speak with your line manager or the Secretary to make a disclosure. The Integrity Unit is available to liaise with your manager or the Secretary to assess your disclosure.
You can also make a disclosure directly to the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC), as follows:
- Online – Using IBAC’s online complaint form
- Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
- Phone – 1300 735 135
- In person at IBAC’s offices – Level 1, North Tower, 459 Collins Street, Melbourne VIC 3000
If your disclosure is about a ministerial officer or a statutory entity or office within the department’s portfolio, you should contact IBAC.
What happens after I make a disclosure to the department?
The department’s Integrity Unit will conduct an assessment to determine if your disclosure meets the threshold of a public interest disclosure. If your disclosure meets this threshold, the department is obligated to refer the matter to IBAC for further assessment.
If your disclosure is not assessed as a public interest disclosure, the Integrity Unit will consider what other action should be taken, including whether the matter should be investigated internally.
What kind of protections do disclosers have?
Once a report has been formally assessed by the department or IBAC as a public interest disclosure, the discloser receives a number of protections. The discloser:
- cannot be fired, disciplined or bullied for making a disclosure
- is not subject to any civil or criminal liability for making a disclosure
- is not committing an offence against the Constitution Act 1975 or any other Act that imposes obligations of confidentiality or any other restriction on the disclosure of information
- is not breaching any other obligation (made by oath, rule of law or practice) requiring them to maintain confidentiality or otherwise restrict confidentiality
- cannot be held liable for defamation in relation to information included in a public interest disclosure.
In most circumstances, the content of a public interest disclosure, and the identity of the discloser, must also be kept confidential.
Purpose of the Public Interest Disclosures Act
The PID Act aims to:
- encourage and assist people to report improper conduct and detrimental action taken in reprisal for a public interest disclosure
- provide certain protections for people who make a disclosure or those who may suffer detrimental action in reprisal for a disclosure
- ensure that certain information about a disclosure is kept confidential – the identity of the person making the disclosure and the content of that disclosure.