Public Interest Disclosures
A Public Interest Disclosure about improper conduct or detrimental action by DPIPWE or its employees, may be made by current State Service employees, or by a contractor or former contractors who have (or have had) a contract with DPIPWE for the supply of goods and services.
About the Public Interest Disclosures Act 2002
What is a Public Interest Disclosure?
Who can Make a Public Interest Disclosure?
Protecting Those who Make a Public Interest Disclosure
How to Make a Public Interest Disclosure
Public Interest Disclosures Lodgement Form
Public Interest Disclosures Act 2002You may have heard of this Act referred to in the media as the new Whistleblower Legislation.
The Public Interest Disclosures Act 2002 came into effect on 1 January 2003. (See the Tasmanian Legislation website or the link from the Tasmanian Ombudsman website to view the Act.)
The purpose of the Act is “to encourage and facilitate disclosures of improper conduct by public officers and public bodies, to protect persons making those disclosures and others from reprisals, to provide for the matters disclosed to be properly investigated and dealt with and for other purposes”.
The Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (DPIPWE) recognises the value of transparency and accountability in its administrative and management practices, and is committed to the aims and objectives of the Act.
DPIPWE supports the making of disclosures that reveal corrupt conduct, conduct involving a substantial mismanagement of public resources, or conduct involving a substantial risk to public health and safety or the environment. It does not tolerate improper conduct by its employees.
The Department will take all reasonable steps to protect people who make disclosures about the improper conduct of others. It is committed to protecting those who makes disclosures from any reprisals.
It will also afford natural justice to the person who is the subject of any disclosure and will give full support to a person who is the subject of a disclosure where the allegations are clearly wrong or unsubstantiated.
DPIPWE has implemented procedures that comply with the Act’s guidelines:
- For reporting disclosures;
- To protect those making a disclosure; and
- to afford natural justice to a person who is the subject of any disclosure..
A Public Interest Disclosure can be made on the grounds of:
1. Improper conduct; and
2. Corrupt conduct.
1. Improper conduct means conduct that is:
The conduct must be serious enough to constitute, if proved, a criminal offence or reasonable grounds for dismissal.
- Involves a substantial mismanagement of public resources; and
- Involves a substantial risk to public health or safety or to the environment.
2. Corrupt conduct means:
- To avoid closure of a town’s only industry, an environmental health officer ignores or conceals evidence of illegal dumping of waste;
- An agricultural officer delays or declines imposing quarantine procedures to allow a financially distressed farmer to sell diseased stock; and
- A building inspector tolerates poor practices and structural defects in the work of a leading local builder.
- Conduct of any person (whether or not a public official) that adversely affects the honest performance of a public officer’s or public body’s functions;
- The performance of a public officer’s functions dishonestly or with inappropriate partiality;
- Conduct of a public officer, former public officer or a public body that amounts to a breach of public trust;
- Conduct by a public officer, former public officer or a public body that amounts to the misuse of information or material acquired in the course of the performance of their official functions; and
- A conspiracy or attempt to engage in the above conduct.
- A public officer takes a bribe or receives a payment other than wages or salary in exchange for the discharge of a public duty;
- A public officer favours unmeritorious applications for jobs, permits, licenses or tenders by friends and relatives; and
- A public officer sells confidential information.
The Act makes it an offence for a person to take detrimental action against a person in reprisal for a protected disclosure (s.19).
Detrimental action includes:
- Action causing injury, loss or damage;
- Intimidation or harassment;
- Discrimination, disadvantage or adverse treatment in relation to a person’s employment, career, profession, trade or business, including the taking of disciplinary action; and
- Threats of detrimental action.
- A public body refuses a deserved promotion of a person who makes a disclosure;
- A public body demotes, transfers, isolates in the workplace, or changes the duties of a discloser due to the making of a disclosure;
- A person threatens, abuses or carries out other forms of harassment directly or indirectly against the discloser, their family or friends; and
- A public body discriminates against the discloser or their family and associates in subsequent applications for jobs, permits, licences or tenders.
Public Interest Disclosures may only be made by current State Service employees, or by a contractor or former contractors who have (or have had) a contract with DPIPWE for the supply of goods and services.
A disclosure about improper conduct or detrimental action by DPIPWE or its employees, may be made directly to the Ombudsman:
99 Bathurst Street
Hobart Tasmania 7000
Telephone: (03) 6233 6217
Toll Free: 1800 001 170
Disclosures of improper conduct or detrimental action by employees of DPIPWE may also be made to:
(1) Deputy Secretary (Corporate Services & Primary Industries) DPIPWE
(2) The Protected Disclosure Coordinator, (the Manager of Human Resources Management (HRM)) DPIPWE
(Address for both: GPO Box 44, Hobart, TAS 7001.)
Telephone 1300 368 550 (toll free in Australia)
Any person wishing to report improper or corrupt conduct or any detrimental action should fill out a Public Interest Disclosure Lodgement Form and forward the completed form to the Protected Disclosure Coordinator (the Manager HRM). You should be aware that all correspondence, phone calls and e-mails from internal or external disclosers will be referred to the Protected Disclosure Coordinator in the first instance.
Where a person is contemplating making a disclosure and is concerned about approaching the Protected Disclosure Coordinator, in the workplace, they can contact the Protected Disclosure Coordinator and request a meeting in a discreet location away from the workplace.
The following table sets out alternate persons to whom disclosures may be made.
|Person/Body who is the subject of the disclosure||Person/Body to whom the disclosure must be made|
|Member, officer or employee of a public body (other than the police force)||That public body, or |
State Service Commissioner (if applicable) or
|Public body||The Ombudsman|
|Member of the police force||The Commissioner of Police|
|The Commissioner of Police||The Ombudsman |
|Member of Parliament (Legislative Council)||President of the Legislative Council|
|Member of Parliament (House of Assembly)||Speaker of the House of Assembly |
The Act requires any person who receives information due to the handling or investigation of a protected disclosure, not to disclose that information except in certain limited circumstances (s.23 of the Act). Disclosure of information in breach of s.23 constitutes an offence that is punishable by a maximum fine of 60 penalty units ($6000) or six months imprisonment or both.
The circumstances in which a person may disclose information obtained about a protected disclosure include:
However, the Act prohibits the inclusion of particulars in any report or recommendation that is likely to lead to the identification of the discloser. The Act also prohibits the identification of the person who is the subject of the disclosure in any particulars included in the annual report.
- Where exercising the functions of the public body under the Act;
- When making a report or recommendation under the Act;
- When publishing statistics in the annual report of a public body; and
- In criminal proceedings for certain offences in the Act.
DPIPWE will ensure all files, whether paper or electronic, are kept securely and can only be accessed by those involved in managing or investigating the protected disclosure. All materials relevant to an investigation, such as tapes from interviews, will also be stored securely with the files and all phone calls and meetings will be conducted in private.
The Protected Disclosure Coordinator will ensure that the discloser is kept informed of action taken in relation to his or her disclosure, and the time frames that apply. If the disclosure leads to a formal investigation, the discloser will be informed of the objectives of the investigation, the findings of the investigation, and the steps taken by the Department to address any improper conduct that has been found to have occurred.
The discloser will be given reasons for decisions made by the Department in relation to a protected disclosure, and all communication with the discloser will be in plain English.DPIPWE recognises that employees against whom disclosures are made must also be supported during the handling and investigation of disclosures. DPIPWE will take all reasonable steps to ensure the confidentiality of the person who is the subject of the disclosure during the assessment and investigation process. Where investigations do not substantiate disclosures, the fact that the investigation has been carried out, the results of the investigation, and the identity of the person who is the subject of the disclosure will remain confidential.
The Protected Disclosure Coordinator will ensure the person who is the subject of any disclosure investigation is:
Their defence will be set out fairly in any report.
- Informed as to the substance of the allegations;
- Given the opportunity to answer the allegations before a final decision is made; and
- Informed as to the substance of any adverse comment that may be included in any report arising from the investigation
Where the allegations in a disclosure have been investigated, and the person who is the subject of the disclosure is aware of the allegations or the fact of the investigation, the Protected Disclosure Coordinator will formally advise this person of the outcome of the investigation.
DPIPWE will give its full support to a person who is the subject of a disclosure where the allegations contained in a disclosure are clearly wrong or unsubstantiated. If the matter has been publicly disclosed, the Deputy Secretary (Corporate Services & Primary Industries) as the Head of Agency’s delegate, will consider any request by that person to issue a statement of support setting out that the allegations were clearly wrong or unsubstantiated.
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