1. Purpose of policy
This policy assists staff and other people to understand their obligations in reporting unlawful behaviour, negligence or corrupt conduct in public sector organisations, or about danger to public health or the environment and outlines the legislative provisions and procedures in place to protect people who make public interest disclosures under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2010 (Act).
When staff come forward with information about wrongdoing, the University commits to:
- protecting the dignity, wellbeing, career interests and good name of all persons involved;
- protecting the discloser from any adverse action taken as a result of making the disclosure (reprisal);
- treating any bullying, harassment, unfair treatment, victimisation or discrimination that results from such a disclosure as a breach of the relevant policy or Code of Conduct;
- responding to the disclosure thoroughly and impartially;
- where some form of wrongdoing has been found, taking appropriate action to deal with it;
- keeping the discloser informed of the progress and outcome; and
- maintaining confidentiality.
As a public sector entity established by an Act of the Queensland Parliament, USC is subject to the Public Interest Disclosure Act and all University staff are defined as public officers for the purposes of the legislation.
USC is committed to encouraging the reporting of wrongdoing and to ensuring all Public Interest Disclosures are properly managed and that people making such disclosures are protected from reprisals and provided with appropriate support.
2. Policy scope and application
This policy applies to all staff and to any person who is making a Public Interest Disclosure to the University, in accordance with the Public Interest Disclosure Act. The Public Interest Disclosure Act protects only those Public Interest Disclosures that are made to a proper authority. The University is a proper authority for conduct concerning the University, a University staff member or behaviour that the University has the power to investigate or remedy. Protected Public Interest Disclosures may also be made to an external public sector agency having investigative powers in relation to particular matters or to a member of the Legislative Assembly who may refer it to an appropriate public sector agency for example, the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC).
Please refer to the University’s Glossary of Terms for policies and procedures. Terms and definitions identified below are specific to these procedures and are critical to its effectiveness:
Act means the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2010.
Corrupt conduct, as defined in detail under section 15 of the Crime and Corruption Act 2001, means 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.
Common examples of corrupt conduct include fraud and theft, extortion, unauthorised release of information, obtaining or offering a secret commission and nepotism.
Discloser is the person that has made a public interest disclosure.
Maladministration is widely defined to mean illegal, arbitrary, oppressive or improper administrative action.
Natural justice provides that all parties must be given the opportunity to present their case, be fully informed about allegations and decisions made and have the right of representation by another person. A decision-maker in relation to the matter should have no personal interest in the matter and should be unbiased in their decisions.
Public interest disclosure means a disclosure of information specified in the Act made to an appropriate entity and includes all information and help given by the discloser to an appropriate entity. This includes a Public Officer making a public interest disclosure about someone else’s conduct if the officer has information about the conduct and the conduct is corrupt conduct or maladministration or the conduct is negligent or improper management directly or indirectly resulting, or likely to result in a substantial waste of public funds; or anybody may disclose a danger to a person with a disability or to the environment from particular contraventions; or anybody may disclose a reprisal.
4. Public Interest Disclosures
The Act distinguishes between Public Interest Disclosures made by public officers and those made by anyone else. What constitutes a Public Interest Disclosure depends on who is making the disclosure.
Public Interest Disclosures from any person
Any person can only make a disclosure 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; or
- The conduct of another person that could, if proven, be a reprisal.
Public Interest Disclosures from a public officer
A public officer can make a disclosure about:
- Corrupt conduct, as defined by the Crime and Corruption Act 2001
- Maladministration that adversely affects a person’s interests in a substantial and specific way
- A substantial misuse of public resources, or
- A substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.
To satisfy the test of a public interest disclosure, a person makes a Public Interest Disclosure if they honestly believe on reasonable grounds that they have information that tends to show conduct that falls within one of the above categories (subjective test); or the information tends to show conduct or danger that falls within one of the above categories regardless of whether or not the discloser honestly believes it (objective test).
Some disclosures are not protected by the Act, including disclosures made to the media (except as described in section 20 of the Act); disclosures that are made frivolously or vexatiously; those which primarily question the relative merits of government or University policy; and those that are made substantially to avoid disciplinary action. Disclosures that are wilfully false constitute an offence under the Act.
5. Making a disclosure
Staff seeking information about making a public interest disclosure may contact Human Resources for confidential information and advice. Staff may also contact:
- The Chief Operating Officer, in the case of a disclosure about the Director, Human Resources;
- The Crime and Corruptions Commission’s Complaints Services in relation to corrupt conduct; or
- The Queensland Ombudsman in relation to maladministration.
A public interest disclosure can be made in writing or verbally and anonymously. Disclosures may be made to:
- the Director, Human Resources;
- the staff member’s manager, supervisor or other senior University officer;
- the Chief Operating Officer;
- the State Ombudsman if it concerns maladministration or waste of public resources;
- the Crime and Corruptions Commission in the case of a disclosure regarding corrupt conduct;
- a member of Parliament who may refer it to a relevant public sector entity.
If a supervisor or other University officer receives a public interest disclosure, they must refer the matter directly to the Director, Human Resources.
5.1 Anonymous disclosures
The likelihood of a successful outcome is increased greatly if the identity of the discloser is known. Nonetheless, the Act allows for an anonymous disclosure to be made either in writing or by telephone. If the discloser prefers to disclose anonymously, they will need to provide sufficient information for the matter to be investigated, as it may not be possible to seek clarification or more information. Also, it may not be possible to keep the discloser informed on the progress in handling the disclosure and there could be difficulties in relying upon the protections afforded by the Act.
6. False or misleading information
It is an offence under the Act to intentionally make a false or misleading statement intending it be acted upon as a public interest disclosure. It is an indictable offence which carries a maximum penalty of 2 years imprisonment or a $16,700 fine. Any staff member found to have intentionally made a false or misleading statement will be subject to disciplinary action.
7. Assessment of a Public Interest Disclosure
In the first instance the Director, Human Resources will determine whether the disclosure is a matter to be referred to another entity. If so, it will be done in accordance with legislative and administrative requirements.
The Director, Human Resources will also assess the disclosure and determine if:
- the person making the disclosure is able to receive the protection of the Act;
- the disclosure concerns a matter about which a Public Interest Disclosure can be made;
- the disclosure meets either the subjective or objective test set out in the Act;
- the disclosure has been made in accordance with the procedures outlined in this policy and to a person listed in the Act;
- further information is required to provide an accurate assessment; or
- the disclosure requires investigation by an investigator.
If there is any doubt as to whether a disclosure is in fact a Public Interest Disclosure, the matter will be dealt with as if it is a Public Interest Disclosure.
8. Investigation of a Public Interest Disclosure
If the Public Interest Disclosure is a matter that requires investigation by the University, the Director, Human Resources will be responsible for the investigations which will usually be completed by an investigator. Once the investigation is completed and relevant agencies consulted, corrective or disciplinary action will be taken by the University where necessary.
Providing the identity of the person making the Public Interest Disclosure is known, the Director, Human Resources will ensure they are kept informed of the progress and the outcomes of the Public Interest Disclosure wherever practicable. This will include information on the action taken or proposed action to be taken as a result of the disclosure.
9. Support and feedback
The University will initiate and coordinate action to support a staff member making a disclosure, particularly if they are suffering detriment as a result.
Staff that are the subject of a Public Interest Disclosure are entitled to confidentiality, the principles of natural justice and the presumption of innocence while the Public Interest Disclosure is being investigated.
The University will, to the greatest extent possible, keep the disclosure and the identity of the discloser confidential. Breaching the obligation of confidentiality is an offence, and may also be dealt with in accordance with the misconduct or serious misconduct procedures.
Obligations of natural justice and procedural fairness may require the information tending to reveal the identity of the discloser to be made available to other people (e.g. a person accused of serious misconduct). Such a disclosure will only be made where it is unlikely that a reprisal will be taken against the person making the disclosure or any other people affected by the disclosure.
While the University will take all steps necessary to protect the confidentiality of the information provided, the discloser has an obligation to maintain confidentiality also. The fewer people who know about the disclosure both before and after it is made, the more likely it is that the discloser’s identity can remain confidential and they can be protected from any detrimental action in reprisal.
11. Protection of disclosers against reprisals
The Act provides that a person must not cause, or attempt to conspire to cause, detriment to another person because, or in the belief that, anybody has made, or may make, a public interest disclosure. Such conduct is called a reprisal. Reprisals are not condoned or tolerated by the University. In addition to being an offence and a civil wrong, taking a reprisal may also be dealt with in accordance with the misconduct or serious misconduct procedures.
A person suffering a reprisal has legal protection under the Act. Any information about reprisals at the University should immediately be referred to the Director, Human Resources and will be treated in accordance with this policy. All managers and supervisors of the University are under an obligation to notify the Director, Human Resources if they believe any staff member is suffering detriment as a result of making a Public Interest Disclosure.
Where it is established that reprisal action is occurring, the University will take all steps possible to stop that activity from occurring. The nature of the action that will be taken is dependent upon the circumstances and seriousness of the reprisals. Staff found to have engaged in reprisals will be the subject of disciplinary action.
The University will ensure that annual reporting obligations are met and that public interest disclosures received are recorded in the Public Interest Disclosure database.
13. Record keeping
All record keeping and reporting must comply with the legislative and administrative requirements of the Act and the University’s policy on record keeping.