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Blowing the whistle – the Public Interest Disclosures Act

Thursday 04 August 2005

The Commission welcomes information from public officials and independent contractors about suspected corrupt conduct involving the NSW public sector. The Commission appreciates that bringing forward concerns about wrongdoing, particularly in your own workplace, may not be easy.

When you report suspected wrongdoing to the Commission the matter will be assigned in the first instance to an Assessment Officer. You will receive information about how the Commission deals with reports of suspected corrupt conduct. Once the Commission's Assessment Panel has made a decision about how the Commission will deal with the matter, we will advise you in writing of that decision.

The relevant legislation is the Public Interest Disclosures Act 1994 (the PID Act). The aim of the PID Act is to encourage public officials and certain contractors to disclose information about wrongdoing.

Information provided to the Commission will be a public interest disclosure if it:

  • Is provided voluntarily by a current NSW public official or by an individual contracted to a NSW public authority
  • Is given with an honest belief on reasonable grounds that it shows or tends to show a NSW public official has engaged in corrupt conduct within the meaning of the ICAC Act.

Information is not provided voluntarily if there is a duty to provide it to the Commission. Therefore, principal officers with a duty to report suspected corrupt conduct under section 11 of the ICAC Act are not able to make public interest disclosures.

If the Commission determines that the information you have provided does not involve possible corrupt conduct, but appears to involve another category of wrongdoing, we may refer the information to another agency. We will consult with you before we do so. If we do refer your information to another agency as a 'misdirected' disclosure then it will still be protected under the PID Act. Types of wrongdoing in this category include maladministration, serious and substantial waste, contravening government information provisions, or breaches of pecuniary interest obligations.

What types of disclosures are not protected

If a disclosure is one that principally questions the merits of government policy then it will not be a public interest disclosure. Similarly, if a disclosure is made solely or substantially to avoid disciplinary action being taken against you then it will not be protected under the PID Act.

Protections under the PID Act

The way the PID Act encourages people to come forward with information is by offering certain protections. Your wishes to maintain confidentiality will be taken into consideration. If we are to take any steps, such as investigating the matters you have raised, and in taking those steps our actions may tend to identify you as the source of the information, we will first seek your consent. If you do not consent, then we will only take those steps in we consider it is in the public interest to do so.

The second way you are protected under the PID Act is in relation to threatened or actual reprisal action that may occur because you have made a disclosure. Reprisal action includes any form of adverse treatment in the workplace, such as disciplinary action or dismissal. However, it is broader than that and also includes any form of injury, loss or damage, such as actual or threatened physical injury or your reputation being defamed. If you consider that such action has been, or may be, taken against you then you should inform the Commission immediately. Under the PID Act it is possible to seek a court order to prevent a person from taking reprisal action against someone for having made a disclosure. If the action has already occurred, then the person who engaged in the reprisal action may be prosecuted.

Guidance and advice

The Assessment Officer designated to manage your matter can provide you with further information or advice, so please feel free to contact them. However, they are not able to provide you with legal advice.

In addition, the Commission has established a Public Interest Disclosures Committee, comprised of senior ICAC staff drawn from the Assessments, Legal, Investigation and Corruption Prevention areas. As well as providing advice to the Commissioner on matters relating to the PID Act and monitoring ICAC staff training in PID Act matters, that committee's role is to provide general guidance and support to whistleblowers who wish to discuss general concerns about workplace or welfare issues.

You can contact a committee member by calling 1800 463 909 or 02 8281 5999. If you prefer, you can email the committee at pid@icac.nsw.gov.au and ask that a committee member contacts you. The committee member will discuss your concerns confidentially and you are welcome to contact them at any stage, even if the Commission has determined not to investigate your concerns.