Providing information and support to disclosers
Public interest disclosures (PIDs) made by public officers and members of the public are important sources of information. Providing appropriate and adequate information, support and protection to disclosers is an essential element of a public sector entity’s PID management obligations.
The Public Interest Disclosure Act 2010, the Public Interest Disclosure Standard No 1 and the publication, Managing a public interest disclosure program:a guide for public sector organisations provide direction and guidance about PID management processes, including discloser support and protection.
Keep the discloser informed
When a disclosure has been made, the PID Act requires that the discloser be provided with:
- confirmation of the receipt of the PID
- a description of the action taken or proposed to be taken in respect of the PID; or if the entity believes no action is required, the reasons for this decision.
In practice, PID matters often take some time to be resolved and regular communication with the discloser during the process is a way of reassuring a discloser that the PID is being taken seriously.
Conduct risk assessment and review as necessary
As soon as possible after receiving a PID, the chief executive of a public sector entity must determine the level of protection and support appropriate for a discloser by conducting a risk assessment. This process should consider the risk of reprisal to the discloser and others associated with the discloser; and determine the discloser’s need for support. The chief executive must ensure protective measures proportionate to the risk are in place. During the PID process, the entity will need to continue to review the discloser’s situation and it may be necessary to revise the support arrangements.
Provide organisational support
Organisations are required to establish a central point for managing PIDs. Entity PID coordinators help the chief executive manage the entity’s PID program, processes and reporting obligations.
Depending on the PID risk assessment findings, it may be appropriate for the organisation to nominate a contact officer for the discloser.
For public officers, a discloser’s direct manager is usually well placed to act as support officer and support the discloser (unless the manager is excluded from this role because of involvement in PID disclosure or investigation). Alternatively, it may be more appropriate to appoint a contact officer who is a manager in another area but able to be easily reached by the discloser. Ideally, the discloser should be consulted about the choice of a support officer.
Some questions to consider in selecting a PID support officer for a discloser:
- Does the officer have appropriate authority and knowledge about PID processes?
- Is the officer sufficiently removed from the current PID process?
- Does the officer have an established relationship with the discloser or do they have the ability to build necessary rapport? (ideally, the support officer will be someone known to and trusted by the discloser.)
- What assistance will the discloser need (or are they likely to need) and is the proposed officer available and able to provide that assistance?
The nominated support officer should be briefed about their role and the PID case.
Depending on the nature and context of the PID, the officer’s role may include:
- acknowledging to the discloser the PID was the right thing to do and is appreciated by the organisation
- reaffirming that the discloser will be supported and provide practical support such as helping the discloser to manage their expectations and mentally prepare for stressful situations
- providing information about the process (including confirming that the investigator’s primary role is to objectively investigate the matter) and providing updates about the case to the discloser
- providing information about access to professional support services such as employee assistance
- monitoring for signs of detriment or reprisal.
In addition to the nominated contact officer, in some cases it may be appropriate for the organisation to nominate a peer supporter for a discloser who is an employee. For example, a trusted and experienced colleague may be well positioned to offer additional support to the discloser by being a sounding board and offering positive reinforcement. In some circumstances, it may be appropriate for a peer supporter to attend interviews or meetings with the discloser. Where a peer supporter role is being considered, the discloser and the agency’s PID coordinator should be consulted to ensure the proposed officer is not connected to the PID investigation and is appropriate for the role. A peer support officer should be briefed about the scope of their role and the importance of confidentiality in the PID process.