Policy Public Interest Disclosure Procedure

Public Interest Disclosure Procedure


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Intent

The Public Interest Disclosure Act 2010 (Qld) (PID Act) provides for the protection of University staff and other public officers and, where applicable, other persons making public interest disclosures about suspected unlawful, negligent or improper conduct at James Cook University (JCU), or about danger to public health or safety or the environment.

The University is committed to ensuring that public interest disclosures are appropriately managed to address wrongdoing, and that those who make disclosures are supported and protected from reprisals. This procedure outlines the process, protections available and actions to be taken as a result of a public interest disclosure being made.

Scope

This procedure applies to all University staff employed under the JCU Enterprise Agreement, whether they are continuing, fixed-term, temporary or casual appointments, including senior management, executive, academic, professional and technical, and conjoint appointments. Members of the University Council and its Committees are considered public officers for the purpose of this legislation.

Definitions

Except as otherwise specified in this Procedure or the Code of Conduct, the meaning of terms used are as per the Policy Glossary.

Corrupt Conduct

As defined in section 15 of the Crime and Corruption Act 2001:

(1) Corrupt conduct means conduct of a person, regardless of whether the person holds or held an appointment, that:

(a) adversely affects, or could adversely affect, directly or indirectly, the performance of functions or the exercise of powers of:

  • (i) a unit of public administration; or
  • (ii) a person holding an appointment; and

(b) 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:

  • (i) is not honest or is not impartial; or
  • (ii) involves a breach of the trust placed in a person holding an appointment, either knowingly or recklessly; or
  • (iii) 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

(c) would, if proved be:

  • (i) a criminal offence; or
  • (ii) a disciplinary breach providing reasonable grounds for terminating the person’s services, if the person is or were the holder of an appointment.

(2) Corrupt conduct also means conduct of a person, regardless of whether the person holds or held an appointment, that:

(a) impairs, or could impair, public confidence in public administration; and

(b) involves, or could involve, any of the following:

  • (i) collusive tendering;
  • (ii) fraud relating to an application for a licence, permit or other authority under an Act with a purpose or object of any of the following (however described):
    • (A) protecting health or safety of persons;
    • (B) protecting the environment;
    • (C) protecting or managing the use of the State’s natural, cultural, mining or energy resources;
  • (iii) dishonestly obtaining, or helping someone to dishonestly obtain, a benefit from the payment or application of public funds or the disposition of State assets;
  • (iv) evading a State tax, levy or duty or otherwise fraudulently causing a loss of State revenue;
  • (v) fraudulently obtaining or retaining an appointment; and

(c) would, if proved, be—

  • (i) a criminal offence; or
  • (ii) a disciplinary breach providing reasonable grounds for terminating the person’s services, if the person is or were the holder of an appointment.

Detriment

Includes:

(a) personal injury or prejudice to safety;

(b) property damage or loss;

(c) intimidation or harassment;

(d) adverse discrimination, disadvantage or adverse treatment about career, profession, employment, trade or business;

(e) financial loss; and

(f) damage to reputation, including for example, personal, professional or business reputation.

Discloser

A person who makes a Public Interest Disclosure about a matter concerning JCU. The Discloser may be a staff member or other Public Officer.

Maladministration

As defined in schedule 4 of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2010, maladministration is administrative action that –

(a) was taken contrary to law; or

(b) was unreasonable, unjust, oppressive, or improperly discriminatory; or

(c) was in accordance with a rule of law or a provision of an Act or a practice that is or may be unreasonable, unjust, oppressive, or improperly discriminatory in the particular circumstances; or

(d) was taken –

  • (i) for an improper purpose; or
  • (ii) on irrelevant grounds; or
  • (iii) having regard to irrelevant considerations; or

(e) was an action for which reasons should have been given, but were not given; or

(f) was based wholly or partly on a mistake of law or fact; or

(g) was wrong.

Public Interest Disclosure (PID) Coordinator

The Chief of Staff has been appointed the responsible officer for receiving disclosures and acting on them, and is responsible for implementation of the University’s PID management program, including acting as the principal point of contact with the Queensland Ombudsman, as oversight agency.

The University General Counsel will be the secondary PID Coordinator in dealing with disclosures made under Section 8

PID Support Officer

A PID Support Officer is a suitably qualified member of the University staff, with the responsibility for providing support to a Discloser, subject officer or witness who is involved in the management of a PID.

Public Officer

A public officer, of a public sector entity, is a staff member or officer of the entity including members of the University’s Council, its committees and sub-committees.

Reasonable management action

Action taken by a manager in relation to a staff member, includes any of the following taken by the manager:

(a) A reasonable appraisal of the staff member’s work performance;

(b) A reasonable requirement that the staff member undertake counselling;

(c) A reasonable suspension of the staff member from the employment workplace;

(d) A reasonable disciplinary action;

(e) A reasonable action to transfer or deploy the staff member;

(f) A reasonable action to end the staff member’s employment by way of redundancy or retrenchment;

(g) A reasonable action in relation to an action mentioned in paragraphs (a) to (f); and

(h) A reasonable action in relation to the staff member’s failure to obtain a promotion, reclassification, transfer or benefit, or to retain a benefit, in relation to the employee’s employment.

Reprisal

The term ‘reprisal’ is defined under the PID Act as causing, attempting to cause or conspiring to cause detriment to another person in the belief that they or someone else:

  • had made or intends to make a disclosure; or
  • has been or intends to be involved in a proceeding   under the PID Act against any person.

Reprisal under the PID Act is a criminal offence and investigations may be undertaken by the Queensland Police Service.

Third Party

For the purposes of this procedure, third parties include adjunct staff, contractors and consultants of the University and its controlled entities.

1. Disclosure in the Public Interest

1.1     Disclosure by Public Officer. All University staff are considered public officers for the purposes of this procedure, whether appointed on continuing, fixed term, sessional or casual basis.

1.2     All staff are required to comply with University policy, including the Code of Conduct which sets out the standards of behaviour expected of staff. Staff members who are aware of any activity or incident that they consider is wrongdoing or which would adversely impact on the operation of the University are encouraged to report the behaviour.

1.3     However for disclosures to receive the unique protection of the PID Act it must be made to a proper authority and concern:

a.   corrupt conduct as defined by the Crime and Corruption Act 2001 (Qld) (CC Act);

b.   maladministration that adversely affects anyone’s interests in a substantial and specific way;

c.   negligent or improper management by a public officer, public sector entity or a government contractor resulting or likely to result in a substantial misuse of public resources;

d.   conduct by another person causing a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety or to the environment; or

e.   a reprisal (as detailed in Section 10 of this procedure).

1.4     Disclosure by any person (including a public officer). Any person may make a public interest disclosure about:

a.   a substantial and specific danger to the health or safety of a person with a disability;

b.   a substantial and specific danger to the environment; or

c.   causing, attempting to cause, or conspiring to cause detriment to another person because, or in the belief that, a person has made, or may make, a public interest disclosure.

1.5     An appropriate disclosure is where the:

a.   Discloser honestly and reasonably believes the information provided tends to show the conduct or danger; and

b.   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.

1.6     The Discloser is not required to undertake any investigative action before making a disclosure about activity defined at 1.3.

1.7     A disclosure must relate to a matter of "public interest" as defined above and must therefore be based on matters which are more significant and substantial than mere disagreements about policy, expenditure priorities or similar matters. Staff grievances related to harassment, bullying, management conduct or similar will not generally fall within the Public Interest Disclosure Act.

1.8     A person who makes a PID is not subject to any civil or criminal liability or any liability arising by way of administrative process, including disciplinary action for making the disclosure. However it is an offence under the PID Act to intentionally give false or misleading information intending that it be acted on as a PID. Staff may be subject to disciplinary action for intentionally giving false or misleading information in a PID or during an investigation into a PID. While Disclosers cannot be disciplined for making a PID, they continue to be subject to reasonable management action.

2. Making a Disclosure

2.1     Disclosing to the University’s nominated coordinator. When making a disclosure, a person is expected to provide all relevant information currently in their possession in a timely way. A Discloser must not provide intentionally false or misleading information. A person who does so may be subject to disciplinary action and this may also constitute a criminal offence.

2.2     To ensure that a disclosure is managed promptly and appropriately and with due regard to confidentiality, natural justice and other considerations, a disclosure by a JCU staff member or other Public Officer should preferably be in writing and made to the Chief of Staff, who is the nominated PID Coordinator.

2.3     Other ways of making a protected disclosure. To receive protection under the Public Interest Disclosure Act, a disclosure must be made to a ‘proper authority’, that is, to the University itself, other external entities with the authority to investigate the matter (such as the Crime and Corruption Commission, or a Member of the Queensland Parliament.

2.4     Staff members are encouraged to make a disclosure internally in the first instance as it:

a.   promotes and strengthens efficient use of University resources;

b.   encourages ownership and early resolution of issues;

c.   avoids unnecessary adverse publicity; and

d.   builds confidence and trust in the University and the PID process.

2.5     Within the University, a disclosure can always be made to a staff member’s supervisor (or a more senior line manager), the Vice-Chancellor and President, a member of Council, the Manager, Internal Audit, and where the disclosure relates to reprisal action in regard to the employment of the Discloser, to the Director, Human Resources.

2.6     If a staff member makes a disclosure to another staff member or Public Officer (including a Council member), the disclosure should be referred immediately to the PID Coordinator for management under this procedure (except as set out in section 8).

2.7     The PID Act protects certain disclosures made to some external Queensland government agencies. JCU will fully cooperate with an external agency that is authorised by the Act to investigate a disclosure.

2.8     Anonymous disclosures. Anonymous disclosures will be accepted. The University will endeavour to appropriately address the matters raised in an anonymous disclosure in line with its commitment to address wrongdoing. However, anonymous disclosures may limit the University’s capacity to fully investigate the issues, and the University may be unable to provide protections to the Discloser and to inform the Discloser about the outcome of any investigation. If an anonymous telephone caller calls a University staff member, the University staff member receiving the disclosure should record the date, time and circumstances of the PID. It should then be forwarded to the PID Coordinator.

2.9     Disclosures made orally. Where a disclosure is made orally, the Discloser should be encouraged to commit the disclosure to writing. If the Discloser is unwilling or unable to do so, the Officer to whom it is made should make a record of the disclosure made, confirm the information with the Discloser, and ensure that the disclosure is actioned as set out in this procedure.

3. Responsibilities

3.1     The following have responsibilities within this procedure:

a.   Chief of Staff (PID coordinator):

  • Receives and assesses disclosures to determine whether they meet the definition of a PID.
  • Appoints the PID Support Officer for a particular disclosure.
  • Maintains confidential records of disclosures, protections, investigations and outcomes.
  • Undertakes external reporting to the Queensland Ombudsman and any notification or referral required under the Public Interest Disclosure Act or another Act.
  • Appoints an investigator to carry out an investigation into the matters disclosed, where appropriate.
  • Promotes awareness on PID management within the University and ensures key staff receive appropriate training.
  • Undertakes monitoring to identify trends and issues.
  • Provides advice to the University community about PIDs and the PID Act.
  • Provides report to the Audit, Risk and Compliance Committee about the PID management activities through regular compliance reporting.

b.   PID Support Officer (for a particular disclosure):

  • Advises the Discloser what making a PID means.
  • Assesses the immediate protection needs of the Discloser.
  • Coordinates and provides support to a Discloser during investigation or other processes undertaken to address a disclosure (information, counselling, legal advice or skills training).
  • Advises the Discloser of progress of the investigation or action taken by the entity, on a regular basis.
  • Endeavours to ensure that the expectations of the Discloser are realistic.
  • Keeps records of all aspects of support provided.

c.   PID investigator:

  • Undertakes investigation of a disclosure where this is determined to be the appropriate action for responding to a disclosure.
  • Prepares a report to the PID Coordinator summarising the conclusions of the investigation about the matters disclosed and any recommendations for action to be provided to the PID Coordinator.

4. Assessment of a Disclosure

4.1     The Office of the Chief of Staff is the University's central contact point for the receipt and assessment of all PIDs. All PIDs, including those that are made anonymously, will be assessed by the PID Coordinator to determine if the:

a.   disclosure concerns a matter about which a PID can be made, in accordance with the PID Act and this procedure;

b.   disclosure has been made to a proper authority under the PID Act and in accordance with the University's procedure;

c.   Person making the disclosure is able to receive the protection of the PID Act.

4.2     If there is doubt about whether a disclosure is a PID, further information may be obtained to inform the decision. If doubt still remains, PID Coordinator will assume the disclosure is protected and manage it as if it is a PID.

4.3     Upon receiving the PID, the PID Coordinator must also assess whether there are any other legislative obligations in regard to the matter, for instance, referral to the Crime and Corruption Commission, Queensland Ombudsman, or a notification or referral to another external agency such as Workplace Health and Safety Queensland. The PID Coordinator has the discretion to obtain internal legal advice. Any referral or notification required is undertaken by the Chief of Staff except as set out in section 8.

4.4     If the matter is to be referred to an agency, the referral will be made in accordance with legislative and other requirements including seeking consent from the Discloser to forward the information to the proper authority, informing the Discloser when the information has been forwarded, and undertaking a risk assessment to ensure there is not an unacceptable risk that a reprisal would happen before the referral is made.

4.5     If the matter is required to be investigated by the University, the PID Coordinator will be responsible for the investigation which may be completed by an internal or external investigator, as appropriate. If choosing to appoint an external investigator, the PID Coordinator will not do so without first consulting the Discloser, unless required by other relevant legislation.

4.6     If a disclosure is referred to the University under the PID Act by another entity, acknowledgement will be made in accordance with legislative requirements.

4.7     If it is determined that the disclosure does not relate to a matter of public interest, the PID Coordinator may refer the matter to be dealt with under other University procedures. A person who is advised that their disclosure does not constitute a PID may apply to the Vice-Chancellor and President for a review of the decision within 28 days after receiving the written reasons.

5. Investigation of a Disclosure

5.1     JCU endeavours to act upon allegations of wrongdoing appropriately and in as timely a manner as the subject matter allows.

5.2     In determining appropriate action, the PID Coordinator may consult with other University officers, though in a manner which protects confidentiality of the Discloser and maintains the integrity of any relevant information or evidence. In addition to implementation of protections for the Discloser (section 6 below) appropriate action may include:

a.   taking immediate measures to halt conduct or remedy the danger to which the disclosure relates;

b.   implementing changes to policies, procedures or other internal processes or controls;

c.   utilising existing University policies or procedures to address a concern or to undertake an investigation or enquiry into a matter (for example, research misconduct procedures);

d.   conducting an internal audit or review; and

e.   formally investigating the disclosure.

5.3     The Chief of Staff/PID Coordinator may appoint a PID investigator who may be internal or external to the University. An investigator must be independent of the relevant area or function to which the disclosure relates and must be suitably qualified to undertake an investigation process. An investigation plan will address investigation processes to be adopted and the obligations to, rights of and impacts upon Disclosers and respondents during the investigation.

5.4     Where an investigation is undertaken, an investigation report is provided to the PID Coordinator, and may include recommendations for action. Recommended actions may include additional training or improvements to systems or processes.

5.5     The PID Coordinator may also determine that no action is required on a disclosure, for instance, where other processes are already in progress; where, due to the age or trivial nature of the matters disclosed, investigation is not warranted or possible; or where matters have already been investigated and determined.

5.6     If a decision is made not to investigate or deal with a PID, the Discloser will be provided with written reasons for that decision.

5.7     The University may choose to engage an internal or external investigator or legal adviser, to assist with the assessment or investigation of the disclosure required under the Act. The disclosure will not otherwise be referred to another party except in accordance with the Act. Any personnel (whether internal or external to the University) involved in the investigation will be fully briefed by the PID Support Officer on their obligations under the Act and this procedure, and the consequences of any breach of the obligations.

5.8     If, as a result of investigation, the information about wrongdoing provided in the PID is substantiated, appropriate action will be taken.

5.10     The Discloser may request a review of the decision taken on the disclosure via a formal request made to the Vice Chancellor within 28 days after receiving written reasons. The Vice Chancellor (or delegate) will review the matter and determine whether to confirm or overturn the decision and written reasons will be provided to the Discloser.

6. Support for a Discloser

6.1     Disclosers are encouraged to provide their contact details when making a PID as this will enable the University to formally acknowledge the disclosure, make contact to ask for additional information if required, and to provide organisational support (as detailed below).

6.2     The University will treat all PIDs appropriately and seriously, ensuring privacy and confidentiality (as far as possible) throughout the process. The University reassures staff who report wrongdoing, whether the information constitutes a PID under the PID Act or not that they will be supported and protected from possible reprisals. Disclosers cannot be disciplined for making a PID but Disclosers will continue to be managed in accordance with normal, fair and reasonable practices during and after the handling of the PID.

6.3     It is an offence under the PID Act to intentionally give false or misleading information intending that it be acted on as a PID. Staff who intentionally give false or misleading information may be subject to disciplinary action.

6.4     Once the matter has been assessed as a PID, the PID Coordinator will advise the Discloser in writing:

a.   that their information has been received and assessed as a PID;

b.   the action to be taken in relation to the disclosure;

c.   the likely timeframe involved;

d.   the name and contact details of the support officer who the Discloser may contact for updates or advice. The support officer will have sufficient authority to ensure that the Discloser has appropriate organisational support and protection from reprisals and will be separate from the investigation function;

e.   the Discloser’s obligations regarding confidentiality, except as allowed under the PID Act;

f.   the protections the Discloser has under the PID Act;

g.   the commitment of the University to keep the Discloser’s identity and the information disclosed confidential, except where permitted under the PID Act;

h.   the Discloser’s likely involvement in any action to be taken and how updates regarding intended actions and outcomes will be provide to the Discloser; and

i.   the arrangements that will be put in place to support the Discloser and contact details for the University’s employee assistance program where appropriate.

6.5     The University has obligations to ensure that the health, safety and wellbeing of the Discloser is not put at risk as a result of making the disclosure and develop a protection plan, following consultation with the Discloser. In developing the protection plan, the PID Coordinator will incorporate:

a.   assessment of risks to the Discloser and others associated with the disclosure, including potential consequences of any reprisal, taking account of input from the Discloser;

b.   identification of protective measures proportionate and relevant to the risks of reprisal or detriment (whether actual or perceived), including employee assistance and other support;

c.   processes for monitoring protective measures and addressing issues if required;

d.   development of measures to ensure confidentiality is maintained by all parties, including by the Discloser; and

e.   assistance to the Discloser in identifying a support person with whom they feel comfortable (the support person will be apprised of their confidentiality obligations under the PID Act).

6.6     Consistent with the PID Act, the making of a Disclosure by a staff member does not prevent supervisors and managers from taking reasonable management action to address unsatisfactory performance or improper conduct by the Discloser or others, even where this relates to the matters disclosed.

6.7     A Discloser will be provided with reasonable information about the outcome(s) of any investigation. This information must also be given in writing.

7. Support for Public Officers against Whom a PID has been made

7.1     Public Officers who are the subject of an allegation may seek assistance from their legal representative, union or support person and may utilise the services of the Employee Assistance Program for advice and counselling. This service provides confidential counselling and support.

7.2     Those who are the subject of or in some way associated with a PID are entitled to confidentiality and the presumption of innocence and should not be treated adversely as a result of their involvement. The University will protect the rights of persons who are the subject of a PID by:

a.   assuring them that the PID will be dealt with impartially, fairly and reasonably, in accordance with the principles of natural justice;

b.   confirming that the PID is an allegation only until information or evidence obtained through an investigation substantiates the allegations;

c.   providing them with information about their rights and the progress and outcome of any investigation; and

d.   referring them to the University’s employee assistance program (if a staff member).

8. Disclosure relating to the PID Coordinator or Vice Chancellor

8.1     If the disclosure names the Chief of Staff as the subject of a PID or there is a conflict of interest in dealing with the disclosure, the University General Counsel will act as PID Coordinator.

8.2     If the disclosure names the Vice Chancellor as the subject of a PID, the PID Coordinator is to refer the matter to the nominated person identified in the Complaint about the Vice Chancellor Procedure (which gives effect to s48A of the CC Act), who will notify the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) of the complaint, and deal with the matter in accordance with that Procedure.

8.3.    If the disclosure is one that, on initial assessment does not suggest corrupt conduct but may involve misconduct or serious misconduct, the PID Coordinator is to consult with the University Chancellor regarding reasonable management action whilst the matter is investigated.

9. Confidentiality

9.1     In managing disclosures, the University will, to the greatest extent possible, keep the disclosure and the identity of the Discloser confidential.

9.2     The Discloser also has obligations to preserve confidentiality and not to discuss the disclosure with work colleagues or other unauthorised persons.

9.3     Maintaining confidentiality protects the Discloser against reprisals and also protects other people affected by the disclosure. In protecting confidentiality, the University will ensure that the details of the disclosure, the investigation and related decisions will be kept secure. Maintaining confidentiality encompasses:

a.   the fact that a disclosure has been made;

b.   any information that may identify the Discloser or any person who may be the subject of a disclosure;

c.   the actual information that has been disclosed; and

d.   information relating to the disclosure that may cause detriment, if known.

9.4     While every attempt to protect confidentiality will be made, there will be occasions when disclosure of the Discloser identity will be unavoidable, or in accordance with relevant provisions of the Act, these include:

a.   for procedural fairness (after considering the risk of reprisal);

b.   responding to a court order or legal directive;

c.   in court proceedings; and/or

d.   it is necessary to prevent a serious threat to a person’s health or safety.

9.5     The University will advise the Discloser if their identity may be revealed due to one of the reasons listed above, and the Discloser’s prior consent will be sought, if possible.

9.6     Where maintaining confidentiality is not possible or cannot be maintained, the University will consider on a case by case basis the steps to protect a Discloser from reprisal.

10. Reprisals

10.1   The PID 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 and is not condoned or tolerated by the University. Taking reprisal action may also constitute a criminal offence.

10.2   Furthermore, taking a reprisal action may also constitute corrupt conduct and be reported to the Crime and Corruption Commission. Any information about reprisals, or suspected reprisals, at the University should be referred immediately to the PID Coordinator. Any such information is a Public Interest Disclosure and will be treated in accordance with this procedure.

11. Record Keeping and Reporting

11.1   In accordance with its obligations under the PID Act and the Public Records Act 2002, the University will ensure that accurate data is collected about the receipt and management of all PIDs, and the de-identified data will be reported to the Office of the Queensland Ombudsman through the PID reporting database (RaPID).

11.2   The Chief of Staff/PID Coordinator is responsible, on behalf of the Vice-Chancellor, for fulfilling the University's reporting obligations under the PID Act and will keep a secure record of all PIDs or purported PIDs received by the University in the central records system. Access to the confidential records will be strictly limited to the appropriate officers.

12. If the Discloser is dissatisfied with the University Response

The Office of the Queensland Ombudsman is the oversight agency for the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2010 (Qld). A Discloser who is dissatisfied with the outcome of a PID investigation by JCU may choose to approach the Office of the Queensland Ombudsman who may investigate complaints about the actions and decisions of public sector entities (including universities).

Related documents and legislation

Staff Code of Conduct

Code of Conduct for the University Council and its Committees

Reportable Gifts Policy

Conflict of Interests of a Member of Council or a Committee of Council Policy

Risk Management Policy

Complaint about the Vice Chancellor Procedure

Crime and Corruption Act 2001

Public Interest Disclosure Act 2010

Public Interest Disclosure Standard No 2/2019

Public Records Act 2002

Public Sector Ethics Act 1994

Administration

Approval Details

Procedure Sponsor/s

Vice Chancellor

Approval Authority

Vice Chancellor

Date for next review

12/06/2022

Revision History

Version

Approval date

Implementation date

Details

Author

19-1

12/06/2019

24/07/2019

Procedure established on disestablishment of Statement on Integrity

Vanessa Cannon, Chief of Staff

Contact person:

Chief of Staff

Keywords

Conduct, maladministration, public interest, corruption