Public interest disclosures

Procedure statement

This procedure aims to assist employees and other people to understand their obligations in reporting wrongdoing that concerns staff members from Children’s Health Queensland Hospital and Health Service (CHQ HHS) including corrupt conduct, maladministration, misuse of public funds, a substantial danger to public health, safety and environment.

This document also outlines the legislative provisions and procedures in place to protect people who make public interest disclosures under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2010 (PID Act).

Application

This procedure applies to all CHQ HHS employees.

Delegations

All ‘delegates’ are listed in the CHQ HHS Human Resources Sub-Delegations Manual. A delegated officer may undertake actions in accordance with the conditions of the delegation and processes stated in relevant legislation, policies and procedures, as they think necessary or expedient to the proper exercise or discharge of the power.

Authority

Policy and standard(s)

Related  documents

  • CHQ HHS Reporting and Managing of Corrupt Conduct Policy
  • CHQ HHS Complaint Management Factsheet

Definition of terms

Means any action about a matter of administration, including for example:

  1. a decision and an act
  2. a failure to make a decision or do an act, including a failure to provide a written statement of reasons for a decision
  3. the formulation of a proposal or intention
  4. the making of a recommendation, including a recommendation made to a Minister
  5. an action taken because of a recommendation made to a Minister
Includes:

  1. personal injury or prejudice to safety
  2. property damage or loss
  3. intimidation or harassment
  4. adverse discrimination, disadvantage or adverse treatment about career, profession, employment, trade or business
  5. financial loss
  6. damage to reputation, including, for example, personal, professional or business reputation
Corrupt conduct means conduct of a person, regardless of whether the person holds or held an appointment, that:

  1. adversely affects, or could adversely affect, directly or indirectly, the performance of functions or the exercise of powers of –
    1. a unit of public administration; or
    2. a person holding an appointment; and
  2. results, or could result, directly or indirectly, in the performance of functions or the exercise of powers mentioned in paragraph (a) in a way that –
    1. is not honest or is not impartial; or
    2. involves a breach of the trust placed in a person holding an appointment, either knowingly or recklessly; or
    3. involves a misuse of information or material acquired in or in connection with the performance of functions or the exercise of powers of a person holding an appointment; and
  3. is engaged in for the purpose of providing a benefit to the person or another person or causing a detriment to another person; and
  4. would, if proved, be –
    1. a criminal offence; or
    2. a disciplinary breach providing reasonable grounds for terminating the person’s services, if the person is or were the holder of an appointment.

Corrupt conduct is conduct by a person which meets the four elements stipulated in Crime and Conduct Act.

Means a permanent disability or one likely to be permanent:

  • that is attributable to an intellectual, psychiatric, cognitive, neurological, sensory or physical impairment or a combination of impairments
  • that results in a substantial reduction of the person’s capacity for communication, social interaction, learning or mobility; and the person needing support
Means a person who makes a public interest disclosure.
Includes:

  • ecosystems and their constituent parts, including people and communities
  • all natural and physical resources
  • the qualities and characteristics of locations, places and areas, however large or small, that contribute to their biological diversity and integrity, intrinsic or attributed scientific value or interest, amenity, harmony and sense of community
  • the social, economic, aesthetic and cultural conditions that affect, or are affected by, things mentioned in paragraphs (a) to (c) – (Environmental Protection Act 1994)
Means a person engaged in the occupation of writing or editing material intended for publication in the print or electronic news media.
Is administrative action that was:

  • taken contrary to law
  • unreasonable, unjust, oppressive, or improperly discriminatory
  • unreasonable, unjust, oppressive, or improperly discriminatory in the particular circumstances even though it is within the law
  • taken for an improper purpose, or on irrelevant grounds, or having regard to irrelevant considerations
  • an action for which reasons should have been given, but were not given; or
  • based wholly or partly on a mistake of law or fact
  • wrong
Inappropriate or improper conduct in an official or private capacity that reflects seriously and adversely on CHQ HHS.
Means a person who makes a PID in accordance with provisions contained within the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2010 and who is granted protected status (previously known as “whistleblower protection status”)
Are funds available to, or under the control of, a public sector entity and include, for example, public moneys within the meaning of the Financial Accountability Act 2009.
Includes the health or safety of persons under lawful care or control, using community facilities or services provided by the public or private sector or in employment workplaces.
Means a disclosure of information specified in the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2010 (sections 12 and 13) and made to an appropriate public sector entity that has the responsibility or power to take appropriate action about the information disclosed or to provide an appropriate remedy.
Means causing, attempting to or conspiring to cause, detriment to another because, or in the belief that, they have made, or intend to make, a PID.
(Describing danger to the environment). While not defined in the Act, substantial means “of a significant or considerable degree”. It must be more than trivial or minimal and have some weight or importance.

Specific means “precise or particular”. This refers to conduct or detriment that is able to be identified or particularised as opposed to broad or general concerns or criticisms.

Statement of Commitment

CHQ HHS strives to foster an ethical organisational culture where employees feel confident and comfortable about making a disclosure. In accordance with the principles of the Code of Conduct, employees who believe they have witnessed wrongdoing have an ethical responsibility to disclose wrongdoing.  CHQ HHS is committed to:

  • responding appropriately to public interest disclosures
  • having procedures in place to properly assess, and where appropriate, investigate those disclosures
  • protecting people making disclosures and appropriately addressing the cause of any identified issue.

Procedure

A Public Interest Disclosure (PID) is a disclosure of public interest information made by a person to an appropriate entity, within the meaning of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2010 (the Act). PIDs relate to a disclosure of wrongdoing within the public sector and include allegations of:

  • suspected corrupt conduct
  • maladministration
  • a substantial and specific danger to the health or safety of a person with a disability, the environment, or to public health, or safety
  • an environmental offence
  • a substantial misuse of public resources
  • reprisal against a person who has made a PID.
Some disclosures are not protected by the PID Act, including disclosures made to the media (except as described in section 20 of the PID Act). The types of information that may be disclosed as a PID are outlined in this policy.

Other CHQ HHS policies establish processes for employee complaints on matters such as harassment and bullying. For an employee complaint to amount to a PID, it must be a claim that could, if proven, be corrupt conduct.

It is an offence under the PID 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 $16,700 fine. Any employees who make a false or misleading statement will be subject to disciplinary action

Making a Public Interest Disclosure

Anybody can provide information if they honestly believe it can show wrongdoing or danger, and the information is of public interest and is made to a proper authority. Whether or not a disclosure will be recognised as a PID will be determined by the department, taking into consideration the type of information supplied and who has made the disclosure. Anybody can make a disclosure about:

  • a substantial and specific danger to the health or safety of a person with a disability
  • the commission of an offence which is or would be a substantial and specific danger to the environment
  • the conduct of another person that could be reprisal.

Only public officers (employees) can make further disclosures about:

  • corrupt conduct
  • maladministration
  • a substantial misuse of public resources
  • a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety
  • a substantial and specific danger to the environment.
The Human Resources Director is also the PID Coordinator for CHQ HHS and has the delegated responsibility for assessment of disclosures to determine whether they amount to public interest disclosures pursuant to the PID Act.

If the Human Resource Director determines there is sufficient information to assess the disclosure as a PID the matter will be managed in accordance with the PID Act. Contact will be made with the discloser as soon as practicable and they will be provided with written advice as to what will happen after the disclosure has been made, including the type of support and protections available to them under the Act.

Support may be available to disclosers throughout the process from a variety of confidential areas including:

  • a Manager/Supervisor
  • People and Culture Divisions
  • a family member or friend
  • union representative
  • Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
  • Human Resources Director or a nominated officer assigned to provide support during the investigation of the matter.

The internal witness will be:

  • advised about the resources available within CHQ to handle any concerns they may have as a result of making a disclosure
  • supported by the provision of education sessions for the wider work unit (if appropriate) about the obligations to make disclosures and the protections against breaches of confidentiality and reprisal action under the PID Act
  • supported by appropriate and prompt action being taken in the event of any breaches of confidentiality, or suspicions of reprisal, victimisation or harassment
  • contacted with updates regarding the progress of the matter
  • supported as required after the matter has been finalised, for a reasonable period of time.
CHQ HHS is committed to ensuring that officers who are the subject of a PID are treated fairly and reasonably. The subject officer may seek assistance from their legal representative or union. EAP also offers advice and support to a subject officer.
The purpose of the PID Act is to promote the public interest by protecting those who make disclosures. If a discloser considers that reprisal action has been taken against them for having made a PID the matter is to be immediately reported to the Human Resource Director. Reprisal can occur when a person causes detriment to another person because they have made a PID. If a person has concerns about reprisal action they can be provided with certain protection under the Act to prevent this from occurring.

Section 40 of the PID Act makes it an offence for a person to take reprisal action because of a belief that another person has made, or intends to make a disclosure of wrongdoing. If reprisal action is taken against the discloser the Human Resource Director will obtain as much information as possible from the discloser about the reprisal and refer the matter to the CCC for assessment and advice as to what action should be taken by the department.

The Human Resource Director will then make contact with the discloser’s manager in the workplace, or if not appropriate, a more senior manager to ensure adequate protections are in place for the discloser.

A person must not take reprisal action against a person disclosing a wrongdoing. Under section 41 of the Act a person must not take a reprisal. A person who takes reprisal action against another person for making a PID is committing an indictable offence which may attract a maximum penalty of up to 167 penalty units or two years imprisonment. The employee may also face disciplinary action.

When CHQ HHS becomes aware that a PID has been made, the Human Resource Director will undertake a risk assessment to determine the level of protection and support required for the discloser. The level of support and protective measures will be proportionate to the risk of reprisal. If the risk is assessed as being sufficiently “High”, a protection plan will be developed in consultation with the discloser and other relevant stakeholders.

Risk assessments will be conducted on a regular basis to ensure the CHQ HHS is managing the risk of reprisal appropriately. There are a number of occasions when the risk of reprisal may change including, but not limited to:

  • commencement of an investigation
  • change in personal circumstances of parties involved
  • investigation findings being delivered to parties
  • discipline process undertaken
  • penalty delivered to subject officer.

A review of any reprisal protection plan will occur if the risk of reprisal changes. Reprisals may occur if a disclosure of information is not managed appropriately.

CHQ HHS must demonstrate that they have taken reasonable steps to prevent reprisal occurring. Appropriate records must be maintained where the risk of reprisal was considered, assessed and managed. In accordance with the PID Act, CHQ HHS may be required to advise the Queensland Ombudsman’s office what actions have been taken to assess and manage the risk of reprisal against a discloser.

CHQ HHS will consider the following risk mitigation strategies and advise the Queensland Ombudsman as part of the above reporting requirements, which strategies are in place or have been considered at the local level:

  • additional security
  • if the discloser declined support / protection
  • if existing strategies have been considered sufficient
  • if monitoring / management of employees who may engage in reprisal has, or is, being undertaken
  • if protection of identity or existence of Internal Witness has occurred
  • if provision of tailored support for the Internal Witness has occurred or been considered
  • if the suspension of employees who may engage in reprisal has occurred
  • if transfer of the Internal Witness has been considered/offered or has occurred
  • if transfer of employees who may engage in reprisal has been considered or has occurred.
If the CHQ HHS becomes aware of reprisal action against any person, not just the actual discloser, immediate steps will be taken to ensure a senior and experienced officer who has not been involved in dealing with the initial disclosure will investigate the concerns of reprisal.

The person against whom the alleged reprisal has occurred will be kept informed of the progress of the investigation and outcome. Where it is established that reprisal action is occurring, or has occurred, all steps possible to stop that activity and protect the discloser will be taken. The nature of the action that will be taken is dependent upon the circumstances and seriousness of the reprisals that is likely to be suffered.

Any employees found to have engaged in reprisals will be the subject of disciplinary action.

All persons should be aware that making a PID does not protect the discloser from any management, disciplinary or criminal action if the discloser has been involved in improper conduct or their performance is unsatisfactory.

The PID Act contains clarification that reasonable management action may be taken in relation to an employee who made a disclosure provided that the manager’s reasons for taking the action do not include the fact that the employee has made a public interest disclosure. This management action may include a range of action including participation in a performance improvement process and/or disciplinary action.
The PID Act states that a person, who gains confidential information, including the identity of the person who has made the disclosure, must not intentionally or recklessly disclose the information except under certain circumstances. Appropriate disclosure would include revealing the discloser’s identity and the information disclosed to enable a full investigation or procedural fairness or to provide protection against reprisal.

If confidentiality cannot be assured, the discloser is advised by the investigator handling the complaint and steps are taken to protect them from reprisal. On some occasions, although care is taken to protect the identity of the discloser, people may infer who has made the disclosure. Under section 65(7) of the PID Act confidential information about the identity, occupation, residential or work address or whereabouts of a person includes:

  • who makes a PID or against whom a PID has been made
  • information disclosed in a PID
  • information about an individual’s personal affairs
  • information that, if disclosed, may cause detriment to a person
  • does not include information publicly disclosed in a PID made to a court, tribunal or other entity that may receive evidence under oath, unless further disclosure of the information is prohibited by law.
Once a decision is made regarding the action to be taken to deal with the PID, the Human Resource Director will maintain contact with the discloser and provide regular updates as they become available. Once the matter is concluded, written outcome advice will be provided to the discloser identifying the following:

  • what action was taken
  • if the matter was substantiated or not
  • if disciplinary action or managerial action is taken against a subject officer
  • any systemic issues identified and proposed action to be taken
CHQ HHS will ensure all records relating to a public interest disclosure are stored in a secure and confidential system in accordance with the Public Interest Disclosure Standard No.1 – Queensland Ombudsman CHQ HHS will provide relevant information to the oversight agency through completion of the Public Interest Disclosure database which is managed by the oversight agency.
Under the PID Act, a discloser can appeal to the Chief Executive of CHQ HHS in the event that the disclosure is formally assessed as a PID, and CHQ HHS decides to take no action. Under section 30 of the Act, a person who received written reasons can apply to the Health Service Chief Executive within 28 days for a review of that decision (internal review).

In the case where a discloser provides information and after formal assessment, CHQ HHS determines the information does not meet the threshold of the PID Act and therefore is assessed as not being a PID, the discloser can appeal that decision to the Queensland Ombudsman.

Roles and responsibilities

The HSCE is responsible for:

  • creating an ethical workplace culture where employees report suspected wrongdoing when they become aware of it and are supported when they do so.
  • ensuring reasonable procedures are in place to deal with a PID
  • ensuring that procedures are published to enable access to members of the public and CHQ HHS employees
  • ensuring that PIDs are properly assessed, investigated and dealt with, including appropriate action being taken in relation to any wrongdoing in a PID
  • ensuring that employees making a PID receive support and protection from reprisal
  • ensuring that all legislative obligations in relation to reporting and investigation are met
  • ensuring that all matters involving suspected corrupt conduct are referred to the CCC.
These types of roles are accountable within their areas of responsibility for:

  • ensuring reasonable procedures are in place to receive and deal with a PID made by employees reporting corrupt conduct and making PIDs within their business areas about any matters which may be disclosed (under sections 12 and 13 of the PID Act)
  • members of the public making a PID to CHQ HHS about a:
    • substantial and specific danger to the environment
    • substantial and specific danger to the health or safety of a person with a disability or
    • a reprisal because of a belief that a person has made or intends to make a PID.
  • ensuring employees are aware of these procedures and the support and protection that is provided to employees who make a PID, and for those employees who are the subject of a PID
  • ensuring employees are aware of the protection offered to members of the public as a protected discloser when making a PID to CHQ HHS under the PID Act.
  • ensuring employees, managers and supervisors are trained in ethical decision-making, Code of Conduct, corrupt conduct prevention and relevant CHQ HHS policies
  • ensuring approved recommendations arising from reports investigating information provided as a PID are acted upon appropriately and implemented
  • creating an ethical workplace culture by leading by example
  • ensuring employees in their area are aware of their obligations in relation to the requirements of this policy and procedure, including the obligations with respect to maintaining confidentiality
  • monitoring the workplace for any signs of reprisal against an employee making a PID and taking reasonable action to protect them, and ensuring an employee, who is the subject of a PID, receives fair treatment and has access to support and assistance
  • ensuring that where allegations made in a PID are substantiated, recommendations from the investigation are implemented as soon as practicable, with effective systems and processes put in place to reduce the likelihood of recurrence.
The Executive Director, People and Culture in consultation with the Human Resources Director are responsible for:

  • overall co-ordination of the CHQ HHS PID process
  • development, maintenance and communication of the CHQ HHS PID Procedure
  • providing training in ethical decision-making; corrupt conduct prevention; and managing PIDs, disclosures or workplace issues
  • informing the HSCE and the CCC of any cases of suspected corrupt conduct
  • providing advice in relation to the Health Service’s obligations under the PID Act 2010
  • arranging for investigations of matters alleged through a PID to be undertaken
  • ensuring appropriate actions are taken to ensure and maintain confidentiality with respect to the person who is the subject of the allegation as well as the identity and information provided by the discloser, as required under the PID Act
  • advising line managers and supervisors with regard to case management of employees making a PID and employees who are the subject of a PID, to ensure they receive fair treatment, have access to support and assistance, and that protected disclosers are safeguarded from reprisal
  • ensuring legislative reporting obligations on PID issues are met, including reporting to the Public Service Commission as Oversight Agency
  • providing information concerning PIDs to the HSCE relevant senior executives and the CHQ HHS Board as required under the PID Act
  • reporting investigation outcomes of matters alleged through a PID to relevant parties, including Service Directors and/or supervisors of the subject officer, CHQ HHS executives, disclosers, the HSCE and the CHQ HHS Board as appropriate
  • ensuring appropriate action is taken in the event of a breach of PID Act with respect to confidentiality in relation to the person who is the subject of the allegation or the identity or information provided by the discloser
  • ensuring appropriate communication with line managers and supervisors with regard to case management of employees making a PID and employees who are the subject of a PID to ensure they receive fair treatment, have access to support and assistance and protected disclosers are safeguarded from reprisal.
Employees are responsible for:

  • ensuring their awareness and compliance with all relevant policies and procedures, including the Code of Conduct and the CHQ HHS Reporting and managing corrupt conduct policy.
  • attending training in ethical decision-making, Code of Conduct and corrupt conduct prevention when offered
  • being aware of the possibility that corrupt conduct may exist in the workplace and reporting any concerns to their manager or supervisor or an appropriate official in accordance with the CHQ HHS policies and procedures.

Reporting and governance

A PID must be made to an appropriate entity either internally within CHQ HHS or to an appropriate external entity. If a disclosure is made to a person or organisation other than one that can investigate and deal with the matter, you will not receive the protections provided under the PID Act. At the assessment stage it may be determined that the matter should be referred to another proper authority for action. This will be done in accordance with legislative requirements.
  • a CHQ HHS employee can report directly to their manager or supervisor, or alternatively a Senior Director, or an Executive Director
  • the Human Resources Director People and Culture
  • the HSCE, Children’s Health Queensland Hospital and Health Service.
  • the Crime and Corruption Commission if it concerns corrupt conduct
  • the Queensland Ombudsman if it concerns maladministration
  • a Member of Parliament.
In exceptional circumstances a disclosure may be made to a journalist (section 20 of the PID Act) with the provisions of the PID Act still being applicable, however this can only occur after certain pre-conditions are met. An employee who seeks to do so is encouraged to seek clarification and formal (legal) advice in the first instance to avoid placing themselves at risk of breaching other legal/legislative requirements when disclosing information to unauthorised parties.
Disclosures can be made anonymously, in writing or by telephone. However, this may impact the action that can be taken in relation to the allegation and will likely impact the ability to provide feedback in relation to the progress of the matter to the discloser.

While protections under the PID Act may still apply to anonymous disclosers, difficulties could be experienced when seeking to rely upon those protections if the identity of the discloser is unknown. Persons making disclosures are encouraged to provide a contact phone number or generic email address even if they are not willing to disclose their identity.

CHQ HHS is committed to acting on any complaints, including anonymous complaints, and the effectiveness of dealing with these complaints is greatly enhanced by the provision of as much information as possible so the matters alleged can be appropriately investigated.

When making a PID, disclosers have the responsibility to provide honest and accurate information regarding the matter including:

  • the nature of the wrongdoing, including when and where it has occurred
  • who you think did the wrongdoing
  • events surrounding the issue
  • if you did anything in response to the wrongdoing, or are aware of action taken in response to the wrongdoing
  • others who know about the wrongdoing and have allowed it to continue
  • any evidence you may have in support of your report of wrongdoing
  • if you have concerns about a reprisal being taken against you as a result of reporting the wrongdoing

If the assessment of the information leads to action being taken (including investigation) disclosers will often be required to provide further information and supply available evidence in support of the disclosure.

Contact

For all enquiries and proposed changes, contact:

People and Culture Division

CHQ_People&Culture@health.qld.gov.au