The Public Interest Disclosure Scheme (‘PID scheme’) was established by the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013 (‘PID Act’) which came into effect on 15 January 2014. The PID Act replaces the ‘whistleblower’ provisions previously contained within the Public Service Act 1999.
The PID Act promotes the integrity and accountability of the Commonwealth public sector by:
- encouraging and facilitating the disclosure of suspected wrongdoing
- protecting people who make disclosures; and
- ensuring disclosures are properly investigated and dealt with.
What is a PID?
Allegations of wrongdoing made under the PID Act are known as public interest disclosures (‘PID’). Conduct which may be the subject of a PID includes, but is not limited to:
- a contravention of the law
- perverting the course of justice
- an abuse of public trust
- falsifying scientific research
- wastage of public money; or
- conduct that constitutes a danger to health, safety or the environment.
Who can make a PID?
A person must be a current or former ‘public official’ to make a PID. This includes:
- Australian Public Service employees
- Staff and directors of Commonwealth companies
- Statutory office holders; and
- Staff of Commonwealth contracted service providers
Protections provided under the PID Act
Public officials who make a PID are immune from civil, criminal and administrative liability (including disciplinary action) that might otherwise arise from making the disclosure. They will also be entitled to certain levels of protection from having their identity disclosed without their consent and protection from threats of reprisal and reprisal action.
To gain these protections the public official making the disclosure must comply with the requirements of the PID Act. If a public official makes a disclosure to someone who is not authorised to receive it, the public official will not be protected by the PID Act.
How to make a PID?
Public officials who intend to make a PID related to the Department of Industry and Science (the department) should make the PID to an authorised officer. The department’s authorised officers are:
Alternatively, individuals may inform their supervisor of the PID who must then inform an authorised officer. Individuals with supervisory responsibilities within the department must familiarise themselves with the requirements of the PID scheme including the type of wrongdoing that must be escalated to an authorised officer.
Disclosures to authorised officers can be made both anonymously and orally (either in person or by telephone). However, to assist authorised officers to properly consider the matters raised it is the department’s preference that disclosures be made in writing and that the individual making the disclosure consider covering as many of the following matters as possible:
- Their name and contact details (although the discloser may remain anonymous)
- The nature of the alleged wrongdoing
- Who they think committed the alleged wrongdoing
- When and where the alleged wrongdoing occurred
- Relevant evidence surrounding the alleged wrongdoing
- Whether they did anything in response to the alleged wrongdoing
- Others who know about the alleged wrongdoing and any action they have taken
- Whether they believe their information is a PID under the PID Act
- If they are concerned about possible reprisals as a result of making their disclosure; and
- If they have any supporting correspondence or other documentation, providing copies of that material.
The PID scheme is focused on internal disclosure with PIDs being made and investigated within government. However, an external disclosure may be justified in some limited circumstances. Public officials considering making a disclosure outside of government should seek their own independent advice prior to doing so to ensure they are covered by the protections within the PID Act.
How will a PID be managed?
The Secretary of the department has established a PID Procedure which outlines the way in which the PID scheme will operate within the department. The PID Procedure replaces the department’s Whistleblowing (Public Interest) Policy Statement.
- PID Procedure | - PID’s received by the department will be managed in accordance with the department’s PID Procedure.
Individuals who suspect wrongdoing should refer to the PID Procedure for further information regarding the PID scheme, what wrongdoing can be the subject of a PID, what action they may take in relation to the suspected wrongdoing, how PIDs will be dealt with by the department and the protections available to them.
Further information can also be obtained from the office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman which oversees the PID Act and provides specific guidance to public officials thinking about making a PID. Visit the Commonwealth Ombudsman website.