Public Interest Disclosure Procedure 2017

Procedure for Dealing with Public Interest Disclosures made under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2010

Purpose

This procedure has been prepared to comply with s.28 of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2010 (the PID Act) and Standard No.1 issued by the Queensland Ombudsman under s.60 of the PID Act.

Section 6.1.2 of the Standard requires the Queensland Ombudsman to develop and implement reasonable procedures for dealing with public interest disclosures (PIDs) which address the following:

1. Clear identification of who is covered by the procedure and the types of wrongdoing to be reported

This procedure applies to employees of the Queensland Ombudsman and members of the public seeking to make a PID about the conduct of the Office of the Queensland Ombudsman in accordance with the PID Act.

Any person (including an employee) may make a PID about conduct by employees that may be:

  • a substantial and specific danger to the health or safety of a person with a disability
  • a substantial and specific danger to the environment
  • reprisal.

Employees may also make PIDs about:

  • corrupt conduct
  • maladministration that adversely affects a person’s interests in a substantial and specific way
  • a substantial misuse of public resources
  • a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.

For a report to be considered a PID, and gain the protections of the PID Act, the discloser must have reasonable grounds for believing there is wrongdoing (or have information that tends to indicate wrongdoing) and make a report to a proper authority (see 3.1 Reporting mechanisms for further guidance).

2. Encourage the reporting of wrongdoing  

The Ombudsman and senior managers of the Office encourage the reporting of PIDs through:

  • a stated commitment to encouraging the internal reporting of wrongdoing (see clause 1 of the PID Management Plan)
  • endorsement of the value of PIDs and the proper management of PIDs and disclosers (see clause 2 of the PID Management Plan)
  • the implementation of an effective and efficient reporting system
  • the implementation of an effective communication strategy (see clause 3 of the PID Management Plan)
  • the implementation of an effective training program (see clause 4 of the PID Management Plan)
  • providing appropriate support to the discloser
  • ensuring that disclosures are properly assessed and investigated as quickly as possible
  • maintaining confidentiality where necessary
  • keeping the discloser informed
  • making changes to the Office’s policies and procedures or internal controls where appropriate as a result of a PID investigation.

3. Establish a clear reporting system for both internal and external disclosures

3.1 Reporting mechanisms for members of the public and employees

To be treated as a PID, a disclosure must be made to a ‘proper authority’ as defined in s.5 of the PID Act.  

A member of the public or an employee of the Office can make a disclosure to: 

  • the Deputy Ombudsman by way of:
    Email:  abrown@ombudsman.qld.gov.au

    Letter:
    Attn: PID Co-ordinator
    Deputy Ombudsman
    GPO Box 3314
    Brisbane Qld 4001

    Phone: 3005 7005
  • a public sector entity that has power to investigate or remedy the matter
  • a member of the Legislative Assembly.

An employee can make a disclosure about the conduct of another employee or the Office by making the disclosure to:

  • someone in the Office (internal)
  • a public sector entity that has power to investigate or remedy the matter (external)
  • a member of the Legislative Assembly.

A disclosure by a member of the public or an employee may be made in any way (verbally or in writing) and/or anonymously. An anonymous disclosure will be treated in the same way as disclosures made by employees who identify themselves when making the disclosure. It should be noted, however, that anonymous disclosures are sometimes more difficult to investigate.

3.2 Internal reporting by employees

Under the PID Act, every public sector entity is a proper authority for receiving PIDs about its own conduct or the conduct of its employees. Therefore, the Office is an appropriate entity to receive PIDs about its own conduct or that of its employees.

The PID Act provides that if an entity has a reasonable procedure for making a PID, the discloser must use the procedure.

An employee who decides to report wrongdoing internally should report to their supervisor. If the discloser believes their supervisor is involved in the wrongdoing, the disclosure should be made to that person’s supervisor, or to the Deputy Ombudsman.

A supervisor who receives information that the supervisor suspects may constitute a PID must immediately refer the disclosure to the Deputy Ombudsman for consideration.

If the Deputy Ombudsman is alleged to be involved in the wrongdoing, the information must be referred by the supervisor to the Ombudsman for consideration.

Despite the above procedure, an employee may make a disclosure at any time direct to the Ombudsman or to any member of the management.  

3.3 External reporting by employees

An employee can make an external disclosure to a Member of Parliament or to another public sector entity that has the power to investigate or remedy the matter.

An employee who decides to make a disclosure to another public sector entity should contact the appropriate entity and find out how to make the disclosure. Another public sector entity will be regarded as a ‘proper authority’ for the purpose of receiving the disclosure if the information relates to:

  • the conduct of that entity or any of its  public officers
  • anything the entity has a power to investigate or remedy
  • the conduct of another person that could be a reprisal relating to a previous disclosure made by the person to a proper authority.

The table below is a guide to the appropriate external entities for receiving PIDs about the conduct of the Office or one of its employees. If a discloser’s information relates to more than one category (for example, a danger to public health and a misuse of public resources), one of the appropriate agencies should be contacted for advice.

Conduct Appropriate Entity
Corrupt conduct Crime and Corruption Commission
Danger to public health or safety Queensland Health; Health Ombudsman; Workplace Health and Safety Queensland; Queensland Police Service; or the relevant local council
Danger to health and safety of a person with a disability Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services; Adult Guardian; Department of Health; Queensland Police Service
Danger to environment Department of Environment and Heritage Protection or the relevant local council
Substantial loss of public funds Queensland Audit Office
Reprisal Crime and Corruption Commission (a reprisal would normally constitute corrupt conduct)


3.4 Disclosure to a journalist

In limited situations, a person may receive protections under the PID Act if they choose to make a disclosure to a journalist. This protection may apply where a person has made a PID of substantially the same information and the organisation to which the disclosure was referred:

  • decided not to investigate or deal with the disclosure,
  • investigated the disclosure but decided not to recommend the taking of any action in relation to the disclosure, or
  • did not notify the person within six months after the date the disclosure was made, whether the disclosure would be investigated or dealt with.

4. Ensure the assessment of the risks of reprisal referred to in s.6.6 of the Standard

4.1 Protection for employees making a public interest disclosure

The Ombudsman aims to ensure that employees will be protected from harassment, discrimination or any other form of detriment as a result of reporting wrongdoing.

The risk of reprisal will be considered by the Deputy Ombudsman when a disclosure is first made. In consultation with the discloser, a program of support will be developed, and an appropriate plan put in place to minimise the risk of reprisal.

An employee who takes a reprisal commits an indictable offence and is also liable to disciplinary action.

Any employee who believes that he or she has been subjected to a reprisal should report the matter immediately to the Ombudsman or the Deputy Ombudsman who will consider, and where necessary investigate, all reports.

Upon being advised of the alleged reprisal the Ombudsman or Deputy Ombudsman will decide whether there is an obligation to refer the matter to the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) under s.38 of the Crime and Corruption Act 2001.

4.2 Reasonable management action is not reprisal

Making a PID does not protect the discloser from disciplinary or criminal action if the discloser has been involved in improper conduct. A discloser who is an employee remains subject to reasonable management action in relation to their work conduct.

Reasonable management action includes a reasonable appraisal of work performance, a reasonable requirement to undertake counselling, and a reasonable suspension from the workplace or a reasonable disciplinary action.

4.3 Supporting the discloser

The Ombudsman or the Deputy Ombudsman will:

  • assess the support and protection requirements of the discloser
  • provide on-going management of the PID and support for the discloser  
  • where appropriate, develop a case management plan for the discloser, having regard to the nature of the information disclosed, their duties and working environment, the potential for reprisals against them and their medical, psychological, emotional and other needs
  • have regard to whether or not the discloser, or the subject employee, should be relocated or given a change in duties
  • take such reasonable steps as are necessary to ensure that the discloser is not subjected to a reprisal by employees of the Office.

5. The proper assessment, investigation and handling of PIDs

5.1 The assessment and investigation process

All PIDs received will be treated seriously and confidentially and referred to the Office’s PID Co-ordinator (Deputy Ombudsman) for assessment to determine the action required. The PID Co-ordinator will assess the matter in accordance with the PID Standard. This includes determining if the matter should be referred to another entity.

If a PID is likely to result in a disciplinary action, regard should be given to the provisions stated in the Queensland Ombudsman’s Discipline Policy and Procedure. In this instance, the Deputy Ombudsman will consult with the Ombudsman and determine the appropriate course of action.

The Deputy Ombudsman or an officer nominated by the Deputy Ombudsman will contact the discloser and advise how the disclosure will be handled, including arrangements for support and protection from reprisal. The allegations will be handled in accordance with the requirements of the PID Act, the PID Standard, this procedure, and the Office’s complaints management processes.

5.2 Process for PID referral

The Office has a statutory obligation under the Crime and Corruption Act to refer suspected corrupt conduct to the CCC. If a PID relates to alleged corrupt conduct by employees of either this office or of another public sector entity, the matter will be referred to the CCC.

PIDs about the following matters may be referred to the appropriate public sector entity:

  • danger to public health or safety;
  • danger to the health and safety of a person with a disability;
  • substantial misuse of public resources; and
  • environmental harm matters.

The Office will assess if there is an unacceptable risk of reprisal, prior to referring a PID to another entity. Before making any referral, where practicable, the discloser will be consulted to determine the risk of reprisal.

5.3 Taking appropriate action, including investigation where appropriate

The Deputy Ombudsman will determine whether an investigation is required. If a decision to investigate the matter is made, one or more officers will be authorised to undertake an investigation.

5.4 Where no action is taken

The Deputy Ombudsman may decide to take no further action on a PID under s.30 of the Act when any of the following apply:

  • the substance of the PID has already been investigated or dealt with by another appropriate process
  • the matter should be dealt with by another appropriate process
  • the age of the information makes it impractical to investigate the matter
  • the information is considered too trivial to warrant investigation
  • the entity that has jurisdiction to investigate the matter has notified the Office that investigation is not warranted.

Written reasons for not taking any further action must be provided to the discloser. The discloser may apply to the Ombudsman for a review of the decision not to take further action within 28 days of receiving the written reasons.

5.5 After the investigation

At the conclusion of the investigation, the investigator must prepare a report for the Deputy Ombudsman. The report should include the investigator’s opinions as to whether on the balance of probabilities the disclosure (or each allegation) has been substantiated or not.

The Deputy Ombudsman will consider the report, and determine what further action is required.

The discloser will be provided with reasonable information in writing about the action taken on their disclosure and the results as per s.6.5 of the Standard. Before information is released consideration must be given whether releasing the information is likely to adversely affect:

  • the safety of any individuals party to the complaint, or
  • the investigation of an offence or possible offence, or
  • necessary confidentiality about an informant’s existence or identity.

The discloser will be advised of the conclusion of any organised support arrangements following completion of the investigation and the finalisation of action taken. This will signal the end of the reporting process and the finalisation of the matter.

5.6 Action on false or misleading information

It is an offence under s.66 of the PID Act, punishable by up to two years imprisonment, to intentionally make a false or misleading statement intending it to be acted upon as a PID.
Employees who make false declarations may also be in breach of the Code of Conduct for the Queensland Public Service. Where the Deputy Ombudsman reasonably suspects that the discloser has not acted in good faith, or that he or she has intentionally made a false report (including where the allegation has been made maliciously, vexatiously or without any basis), a disciplinary action may be instigated against the discloser. False allegations of corrupt conduct may be investigated by the CCC.

6. Means for complying with the confidentiality requirements of the PID Act  

The Ombudsman is committed to maintaining confidentiality in respect of the management of disclosures/PIDs in order to:

  • minimise the likelihood that a discloser will suffer a reprisal
  • ensure that the effectiveness of an investigation into a disclosure will not be compromised
  • protect the reputation of any employee whose conduct is the subject of an unsubstantiated disclosure.

An employee who obtains confidential information, because of their involvement in the administration of the PID Act, must not make a record of such information, or intentionally or recklessly disclose it, except as permitted by the PID Act. Examples of authorised disclosures include:

  • for the purposes of the PID Act
  • to discharge a function under another Act
  • for a proceeding in a court or tribunal
  • if the person to whom the confidential information relates consents
  • if the person reasonably believes that making the record or disclosing the information is necessary to provide for the safety and welfare of a person
  • if it is essential under the principles of natural justice and it is unlikely that a reprisal will be taken against the person because of the disclosure.  

7. The rights of review, both internal and external

7.1 Internal

Where the Ombudsman has not been involved in the assessment or investigation of a PID, the Ombudsman may, upon written application by an affected employee or other discloser, conduct a review of the decision made or action taken at the conclusion of a PID investigation, or otherwise take action to respond to the application.

If it is decided not to investigate or deal with a PID, the discloser must be given written reasons for that decision. The discloser may then apply to the Ombudsman for a review of the decision within 28 days after receiving the written reasons.   

7.2 External

A right of review to the Supreme Court under the Judicial Review Act 1991 may lie in respect of a question of law arising out of a decision made under an enactment.

Where a public officer may, under an Act, appeal against or apply for a review of:

  • disciplinary action taken against the officer
  • the appointment or transfer of the officer or another public officer to a position as a public officer
  • unfair treatment of the officer
  • the public officer may also appeal the action or have the action set aside (whether or not the Act specifies grounds for the appeal or review) because it was the taking of a reprisal against the public officer.

There may also be a right to apply to the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission or the Supreme Court for an injunction about a reprisal in certain circumstances.  

8. Roles and responsibilities

The Deputy Ombudsman is the nominated officer with overall responsibility for issues related to the management of PIDs within the Office.

Action Responsibility
Referral of PID by supervisor to Ombudsman/Deputy Ombudsman Supervisor

Assessment by Ombudsman/Deputy Ombudsman as to:

  • whether the disclosure constitutes a PID
  • whether or not an investigation will be conducted if the disclosure is a PID
Ombudsman/Deputy Ombudsman
Discloser advised of assessment outcome Ombudsman/Deputy Ombudsman
Develop support plan for the discloser if necessary Ombudsman/Deputy Ombudsman
Draft investigation plan and commence investigation Ombudsman/Deputy Ombudsman or other officer appointed to conduct the investigation
Update discloser on progress of investigation Ombudsman/Deputy Ombudsman or other officer appointed to conduct the investigation
Complete investigation Ombudsman/Deputy Ombudsman or other officer appointed to conduct the investigation
Advise the discloser of final decision Ombudsman/Deputy Ombudsman or other officer appointed to conduct the investigation
Provide information about any PID received under this procedure as required by the Public Interest Disclosure Standard (for annual reporting by the PID oversight body) Deputy Ombudsman
Report to the Ombudsman whether any change is needed to Office’s policies and procedures or internal controls Deputy Ombudsman
Conduct annual review of the effectiveness of the Office’s PID Management Plan and procedures Deputy Ombudsman


The Ombudsman/Deputy Ombudsman will take reasonable and timely action to assess, and deal with, reprisal or significant risk of a reprisal being taken because of the disclosure.

9. The rights of subject officers

The requirement to maintain confidentiality does not affect the obligation to provide natural justice to disclose information to the subject employee if their rights would otherwise be detrimentally affected.  However, the information given to the subject employee must not reveal, or be likely to reveal, the identity of the discloser unless:

  • it is necessary to afford natural justice; and
  • it is unlikely a reprisal will be taken against the discloser.

Subject employees have the right to:

  • be informed at a time considered appropriate by the Ombudsman or Deputy Ombudsman of the alleged wrongdoing
  • make a response
  • be treated fairly
  • have the matter handled confidentially
  • have the matter considered and investigated by an impartial person.

10. Definitions and glossary of terms

Administrative action – means any action about a matter of administration, including, for example:

  • a decision and an act; and
  • a failure to make a decision or do an act, including a failure to provide a written statement of reasons for a decision; and
  • the formulation of a proposal or intention; and
  • the making of a recommendation, including a recommendation made to a Minister; and
  • an action taken because of a recommendation made to a Minister. However this does not include an operational action of a police officer or of an officer of the CCC.

Detriment includes –

    1. personal injury or prejudice to safety; and
    2. property damage or loss; and
    3. intimidation or harassment; and
    4. adverse discrimination, disadvantage or adverse treatment about career, profession, employment, trade or business; and
    5. financial loss; and
    6. damage to reputation, including, for example, personal, professional or business reputation.

Discloser – a person who makes a public interest disclosure.

Journalist – a person engaged in the occupation of writing or editing material intended for publication in the print or electronic news media.

Maladministration – administrative action that:

  • was taken contrary to law
  • was unreasonable, unjust, oppressive, or improperly discriminatory
  • was unreasonable, unjust, oppressive, or improperly discriminatory in the particular circumstances even though it is within the law
  • was taken for an improper purpose, or on irrelevant grounds, or having regard to irrelevant considerations
  • was an action for which reasons should have been given, but were not given
  • was based wholly or partly on a mistake of law or fact, or
  • was wrong.

Natural justice – also referred to as procedural fairness. The rules of natural justice require that a decision-maker is not biased in any way, gives all parties a fair hearing, ensures all parties are informed and allowed to comment, and takes into account a person’s point of view on any matter that adversely affects them.

Corrupt conduct – conduct by anyone that adversely affects a public agency or public official so that the performance of their functions or the exercise of their powers:

  • is not honest or impartial, or
  • knowingly or recklessly breaches public trust, or
  • involves the misuse of agency-related information or material.

Corrupt conduct is engaged in for the purpose of providing a benefit to the person or another person, causing a detriment to another person. In addition, the conduct must be serious enough that, if proved, would constitute a criminal offence or a disciplinary breach providing grounds for dismissal.

Proper authority – persons and organisations authorised under the PID Act to receive public interest disclosures.

Examples of proper authorities are —

  • a public sector organisation that is the subject of the PID. A public sector entity is a proper authority if the disclosure is about the conduct of that entity or its employees.
  • an entity that has authority to investigate the matter. For example, the Crime and Corruption Commission is a proper authority for disclosures about corrupt conduct
  • the Chief Judicial Officer of a court or tribunal when the report is about suspected corrupt conduct or reprisal by judicial officers.
  • a Member of the Legislative Assembly (an MP).

Public Interest Disclosure (PID) – a disclosure of information specified in the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2010 (sections 12 and 13) and made to an appropriate public sector entity that has the responsibility or power to take appropriate action about the information disclosed or to provide an appropriate remedy.

Reprisal – causing, attempting to or conspiring to cause detriment to another person because, or in the belief that, they have made, or intend to make, a PID.

Subject officer – the person about whom a PID is made.

Substantial and specific – While not defined in the Act, substantial means “of a significant or considerable degree”. It must be more than trivial or minimal and have some weight or importance. Specific means “precise or particular”. This refers to conduct or detriment that is able to be identified or particularised as opposed to broad or general concerns or criticisms.

11. Related documents

This procedure should be read in conjunction with the department’s following resources:

  • Queensland Ombudsman PID Management Plan 2016
  • Public Interest Disclosure Act 2010
  • Public Interest Disclosure Standard No.1
  • Ombudsman Act 2001
  • Crime and Corruption Act 2001
  • Public Service Act 2008
  • Code of Conduct for the Queensland Public Service