Public Interest Disclosure
A public interest disclosure is a disclosure of information about certain types of wrongdoing or danger as defined in sections 12 and 13 of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2010 (PID Act).
Any person, including a public sector employee can make a public interest disclosure about:
- danger to the health or safety of a person with a disability
- danger to the environment
A public sector employee can also make a public interest disclosure about:
- corrupt conduct
- misuse of public resources
- danger to public health or safety
- danger to the environment.
Reporting a concern or complaint
For the complaint to be considered a public interest disclosure and attract the protections afforded by the PID Act, the complaint must be disclosed to a proper authority.
A proper authority is a person or organisation authorised to receive a public interest disclosure.
In general, a proper authority includes
- a public sector entity, for example, a Hospital and Health service
- an entity the discloser believes is a proper authority that has the power to deal with or investigate the matter, for example, the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) for matters of suspected corrupt conduct
- the Queensland Audit Office for complaints about a substantial misuse of public funds
- the Queensland Ombudsman for complaints about maladministration
- a Member of the Legislative Assembly.
If you raise your complaint externally, it is very likely the other proper authority will discuss the complaint with the relevant Hospital and Health Service (HHS) (for matters relating to the HHS); or the Department of Health (the department) for department matters; or refer the complaint, as allowed for in the PID Act, to the relevant HHS or department to deal with.
Managing complaints—the process
A Public Interest Disclosure may be dealt with through a variety of processes. It will not necessarily undergo formal investigation.
When a disclosure raises a reasonable suspicion of corrupt conduct, the HHS or the department will refer the complaint to the CCC in accordance with the Crime and Corruption Act 2001.
Dealing with a public interest disclosure can include management action such as counselling or performance improvement opportunities; training; or systems improvement, including amendments to policies and procedures.
Where it is determined that formal investigation is required, this will be undertaken by an investigator appointed by an authorised delegate.
At the conclusion of dealing with the disclosure, the PID Act requires that a discloser is provided with reasonable information on the action taken to deal with the disclosure in writing (subject to the exclusions allowed for in the PID Act).
If you are not satisfied with the outcome to your disclosure you may be able to ask for a review of the decision, or outcome, internally.
The course of action that is taken to deal with a Public Interest Disclosure complaint or any management action taken in response to the (substantiated) conduct of a subject officer cannot be appealed by a complainant.
Policies outlining the process for making and managing public interest disclosures are available on the policy page of your local intranet.
The PID Act states a disclosure of information to a proper authority can be made in any way including anonymously.
When a complaint is received anonymously the information must still be assessed to determine if the information is a public interest disclosure.
Disclosing anonymously can make it difficult to seek clarification or more information, to inform of progress or to provide feedback on the action to be taken, or which has been taken on the public interest disclosure. An anonymous discloser may also experience difficulties in relying upon the protections afforded by the PID Act.
The confidentiality provisions under the PID Act apply to persons who have gained the information because of their involvement in the administration (implementing or carrying out) of the PID Act. Those who lawfully receive information in the administration of the PID Act must not disclose confidential information, intentionally or recklessly.
Confidential information for the purposes of the PID Act is defined in section 65 and can be disclosed to another person, or entity, in accordance with the allowable reasons of that section.
A person who makes a public interest disclosure, and whose identity is known, can never be promised anonymity.
At some stage your name, or other confidential information, may need to be disclosed, for example:
- to deal with the disclosure, such as through the investigation process
- under right to information legislation
- to deal with a criminal complaint or in a criminal prosecution
- because procedural fairness requires it.