Public Interest Disclosure
What is a public interest disclosure?
A public interest disclosure (PID) occurs when a public official raises suspected wrongdoing within the Commonwealth public sector.
Commonwealth Public officials include current and former:
- Commonwealth public servants.
- Commonwealth contractors and staff of Commonwealth contracted service providers.
- Australian Defence Force members.
- Australian Federal Police appointees as defined by section 4 of the Australian Federal Police Act 1979 (AFP Act).
- statutory office holders.
- individuals taken to be public officials.
Kinds of conduct which may be subject to a PID include:
- contravention of a law.
- perverting the course of justice.
- maladministration, including conduct based on improper motives, is unreasonable, unjust or oppressive, or is negligent.
- abuse of public trust.
- wastage of public money.
- unreasonable endangerment of, or increased risk to, health, safety or the environment.
A PID cannot be made in relation to matters that are not disclosable (e.g. disagreements relating to government policy or expenditure relating to such policy).
Not all matters will fall under the PID Act. It may be more appropriate to deal with a disclosure under another process. Matters that have already been subject to a previous investigation process may not be further investigated under the PID Act.
How to make a disclosure
Authorised officers of the OSI can accept a PID about the OSI. The OSI has appointed authorised officers who are responsible for receiving, assessing and allocating PIDs. Disclosures about the OSI may be made by email to the OSI through Contact Us. Disclosures can also be made to the Commonwealth Ombudsman if you are concerned about making a disclosure to the OSI.
A disclosure must be made to an authorised officer of the OSI or the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s office for the discloser to gain the protections available under the PID Act.
More information about making a disclosure under the PID Act is available in the guide Speaking up about wrongdoing published by the Commonwealth Ombudsman.
Information to include in your disclosure
Depending on your circumstances, you should consider providing as many of the following details as possible in your disclosure to help us determine how to proceed:
- your name and contact details
- the nature of the wrongdoing
- who you think committed the wrongdoing
- when and where the wrongdoing occurred
- relevant events surrounding the issue
- if you did anything in response to the wrongdoing
- others who know about the wrongdoing and have allowed it to continue
- whether you believe your information is a public interest disclosure under the PID Act (you do not have to state that your information is a public interest disclosure for it to be considered as such, but it will assist the agency if you do)
- if you are concerned about possible reprisal as a result of making your disclosure
Be clear and factual. Avoid speculation, personal attacks and emotive language as they may divert attention from real issues. If you have supporting information, such as correspondence, documents, files, notes or a diary of events, you should provide these to the authorised officer. You can also include the names of any people who witnessed the conduct or who may be able to verify what you are saying.
You should not investigate a matter yourself before making the disclosure as this may hinder any future investigation.
Can I remain anonymous?
You can make an anonymous disclosure. However, identifying yourself will enable the OSI to better provide you with the protection, support and updates you are entitled to receive. If you wish to remain anonymous, consider providing a pseudonym email address or personal phone number to allow the OSI to communicate with you throughout the process.
Your rights and responsibilities
As a public official making a disclosure, you have a number of rights and responsibilities.
Your rights include to:
- make a disclosure about suspected wrongdoing and have it assessed under the PID Act.
- have your disclosure handled confidentially subject to some exceptions. Further information about the exceptions is provided below at What you can expect from us.
- have immunities from civil, criminal and administrative liability in relation to making a PID.
- be protected from detriment or reprisal caused to you because you made a disclosure or are suspected of having made a disclosure.
Your responsibilities include to:
- make sure you are a ‘public official’ who can make a disclosure under the PID Act.
- make your disclosure to an authorised officer of the OSI or the Commonwealth Ombudsman.
- seek advice about the process and your rights and responsibilities.
- be clear and accurate in the disclosure – do not report false or misleading information.
- provide any relevant supporting material.
- be discreet about your PID and maintain confidentiality throughout the PID process.
- provide reasonable help as required during the investigation.
- alert the authorised officer or investigation officer to any PID-related problems that you may be facing. This includes possible reprisal action in relation to your disclosure.
- seek appropriate support if you need it.
The protections under the PID Act will not protect you:
- if you knowingly disclose false or misleading information.
- from the consequences of your own wrongdoing which may be investigated as a result of the PID.
What you can expect from us
Once the OSI receives your disclosure:
- an authorised officer must assess it and decide whether it is an internal disclosure.
- once allocated for handling by the authorised officer, the principal officer (or delegate) handling the disclosure will decide whether to investigate.
- when the investigation is finalised, you must be provided with a report. More information about the process, is available in the guide Speaking up about wrongdoing published by the Commonwealth Ombudsman.
It is a criminal offence under the PID Act for anyone handling a disclosure to reveal your identity as the discloser subject to some exceptions which are set out in sections 20 and 21 of the PID Act. Some of the exceptions include where:
- you consent to your identity being revealed.
- it is for the purposes of the PID Act. For example, if use or disclosure of your identifying information is appropriate or necessary to investigate your disclosure effectively or to protect you from reprisal.
- it is in connection with an investigation by the Commonwealth Ombudsman into a complaint about the handling of a disclosure.
- the identifying information has previously been lawfully published.
Further information and resources
If you want to make a PID to the OSI or would like further information, send an enquiry to one of our authorised officers using the public interest disclosure enquiry option on our Contact us form.
You can also visit the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s Information for Disclosers for further information and resources about PIDs.