What is a public interest disclosure?
A public interest disclosure (PID) is a disclosure about wrongdoing in the public sector that serves the public interest. For an allegation to be considered a PID under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2010 it must be:
- public interest information about serious wrongdoing or danger
- an appropriate disclosure
- made to a proper authority.
Why make a Public Interest Disclosure?
Disclosures about wrongdoing by public sector workers and members of the public help to uncover corruption and other misuses of public resources.
The PID Act encourages the disclosure of information about suspected wrongdoing in the public sector so that it can be properly evaluated and investigated. Disclosures help public sector organisations identify wrongdoing and build better systems.
An effective system for making PIDs helps to safeguard the integrity of Queensland’s public sector.
What can a Public Interest Disclosure be about?
Only certain types of public interest information can be considered as a PID.
Any person, including a public sector officer, may disclose information about:
- a substantial and specific danger to the health or safety of a person with a disability
- a substantial and specific danger to the environment (as set out in the PID Act)
- reprisal action in relation to a PID.
A public sector officer may also disclose information about:
- corrupt conduct by another person
- maladministration that adversely affects someone’s interests in a substantial and specific way
- a substantial misuse of public resources
- a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety
- a substantial and specific danger to the environment.
Section 12 and 13 of the PID Act provide more information about what is public interest information when making a PID. If a disclosure is not a PID, it may still be in an important complaint.
What is an appropriate disclosure?
An appropriate disclosure is where:
- the discloser honestly and reasonably believes the information provided tends to show the conduct or danger
- the information tends to show the conduct or danger regardless of the discloser’s belief.
Information that ‘tends to show’ wrongdoing or danger must be more than a mere suspicion. There must be information that indicates or supports a view that the wrongdoing or danger has or will occur.
The discloser is not required to undertake any investigative action before making a PID.
A disclosure may still be a PID even if the information turns out to be incorrect or unable to be substantiated provided the discloser had a genuine and reasonable belief that it did occur. This allows for genuine misinterpretations of information to fall within the scope of a PID.
Who is a proper authority?
Proper authorities are persons and organisations authorised under the PID Act to receive PIDs.
Examples of proper authorities:
- The 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 agency you believe 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 official misconduct or reprisal by judicial officers.
- A Member of the Legislative Assembly (an MP).
What protection does the Public Interest Disclosure Act provide?
Disclosers are entitled to reasonable information about the action taken as a result of a PID. This includes information about the action proposed and, if action is taken, the results of that action.
Reprisal against a discloser is an offence. The PID Act also makes the public sector entity vicariously liable if any of the entity’s employees attempt or cause reprisal against a discloser (whether public officer or a member of the public). Public sector entity chief executive officers have specific obligations to ensure public officers who make a PID are supported and offered protection from reprisal.
If you are a public sector officer, you cannot be disciplined for the action of making a PID. However, a discloser’s liability for their own conduct is not affected by the action of making a PID. Making a PID does not prevent reasonable management action.
The PID Act also provides that appropriate consideration be given to the interests of the person subject to a PID. Sometimes a PID is an honest but mistaken claim and it is important that all public sector officers are treated fairly.
Are public interest disclosures confidential?
Strict confidentiality requirements apply to PIDs. Confidential PID information can be recorded or disclosed:
- to administer the PID Act or to discharge a function under another Act (for example, to investigate something disclosed by a PID)
- for a proceeding in a court or tribunal
- with the consent of the person the information relates to (or if the consent of the person cannot be reasonably obtained, if the information is unlikely to harm the interests of the person) or
- if it is essential under the principles of natural justice and reprisal is unlikely.
Can I make a public interest disclosure to a journalist?
Under the PID Act, a discloser may make a PID to a journalist if they have already made the same disclosure to a public sector entity that is a ‘proper authority’ and:
- the entity has decided not to investigate or deal with the disclosure
- the entity investigated the disclosure but did not recommend taking any action
- the discloser was not notified within six months of making the disclosure whether or not the disclosure was to be investigated or dealt with.