Public interest disclosure - Information for disclosers

Information about the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2003 and the public interest disclosure process.

The Public Interest Disclosure Act 2003 (PID Act) allows people to make disclosures about wrongdoing in public authorities, which includes the State public sector, local governments, government trading enterprises, public universities and some government boards and committees (public authorities), and protects them when they do. Read below for an overview of the PID Act and how it applies to people making a disclosure.

Reporting wrongdoing is serious and it often takes courage for people to come forward.

If you have seen, heard or know of something you believe is unlawful or improper and you’re thinking about making a public interest disclosure, we encourage you to read the information on this page and in Don't be afraid to speak up: Guide for disclosers, then seek advice from a public interest disclosure (PID) officer.

What is a public interest disclosure?

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A public interest disclosure is a report about certain types of wrongdoing covered by the PID Act.

A public interest disclosure is a report about certain types of wrongdoing by a public authority, public officer or public sector contractor covered by the PID Act.

A disclosure must do both of the following:

  • Relate to a matter of public interest information – which has a specific meaning under the legislation.
  • Show (or tend to show) that a public authority, public officer or public sector contractor is, has been or may in the future be involved in wrongdoing when performing their public function.

Anyone can make a disclosure, including members of the public, government clients or stakeholders, and people who work for a public authority, as long as they believe, on reasonable grounds, their information is or may be true. Making a deliberately false or misleading disclosure carries significant penalties under the PID Act.

You can make a disclosure anonymously. However, this may make it difficult to investigate, for example, if the investigator wishes to contact you to obtain more information or clarify something raised in your disclosure.

What is public interest information?

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Public interest information is information that indicates wrongdoing by a public authority, public officer or public sector contractor performing a public function.

Public interest information relates to:

  • improper conduct*
  • an offence under State law
  • substantial unauthorised or irregular use of public resources
  • substantial mismanagement of public resources
  • substantial and specific risk of injury to public health, prejudice to public safety or harm to the environment
  • conduct relating to matters of State or local government administration affecting you that is in the Ombudsman Western Australia’s remit.

*Generally, improper conduct is a breach of the standards of conduct that a reasonable person would expect of a person or body, knowing their duties, powers and authority in the circumstances of the case.

Public interest information is defined in the PID Act and if you believe your information relates to this you should contact a PID officer and make a disclosure.

Is the matter a PID, grievance or complaint?

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A disclosure under the PID Act is not always the best or most appropriate reporting pathway to use.

A disclosure is more than a general complaint or dissatisfaction with a product, service or decision by government. It is also more than a personal grievance that can be resolved by agreement between parties. There may be other reporting pathways available if you are looking for an apology, refund or the review of a decision.

Once a disclosure has been made it cannot be withdrawn. Your disclosure will be assessed to determine if the PID Act applies.

Why should I speak up?

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We should all speak up about wrongdoing in public authorities.

We should all speak up about wrongdoing in public authorities.

By making a disclosure under the PID Act you could help stop or prevent:

  • wrongdoing
  • others being disadvantaged or advantaged by wrongdoing
  • misuse of government funds or other resources
  • danger to the health and safety of the community
  • damage to the environment.

Your disclosure could alert a public authority about a bigger problem and lead to better work practices and service to the community.

What is a PID officer?

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A disclosure cannot be made to just anyone, it needs to be made to a PID officer or one of the authorities named in the PID Act. These are known as ‘proper authorities’.

A proper authority has the power and functions to take a disclosure forward and each authority has at least one specified PID officer.

If your disclosure is about a particular authority, its staff or contractors, you should find a PID officer for that authority.

Depending on the type of public interest information you have, you may be able to make your disclosure to one of the authorities named in the PID Act. These 'named authorities' include the Public Sector Commission, Corruption and Crime Commission, Office of the Auditor General, Ombudsman WA and WA Police.

Will my matter be covered by the PID Act?

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There are certain criteria that must be met for a matter to be an appropriate disclosure under the PID Act. If your information is not public interest information, or does not meet the criteria listed below, the PID Act will not apply.

The matter must:

  • relate to a public authority, public officer or public sector contractor in their performance of a public function
  • show (or tend to show) the public authority, public officer or public sector contractor is, has been, or proposes to be involved in improper conduct or one of the other categories of public interest information
  • not be protected by legal professional privilege.

In addition you must:

  • believe on reasonable grounds that the information you have is (or may be) true
  • make the disclosure to a PID officer who is the appropriate proper authority for receiving the information
  • be clear that you have chosen to make a disclosure under the PID Act
  • not disclose information that would otherwise be the subject of legal professional privilege.

How does the PID Act protect me?

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The PID Act protections apply if your disclosure is appropriate and made to a proper authority.

If you make an appropriate disclosure you will have a number of protections under the PID Act and these include:

  • You will not incur civil or criminal liability.
  • You will not be liable to any disciplinary action, to be dismissed or have your services dispensed with or otherwise terminated.
  • You will not be liable for any breach of a duty of secrecy or confidentiality that may apply to you as a result of making a disclosure.

Even if you make a disclosure under the PID Act, you will still be held accountable for any wrongdoing you may have been involved in, and may still face disciplinary action or criminal charges.

If you are a public officer, your principal executive officer is required to take all reasonable steps to protect you from detrimental action resulting from making a disclosure. If you are concerned about detrimental action being taken against you, make this clear to the PID officer at the start of the process.

You should tell your PID officer immediately if you believe someone has, or is threatening to, take detrimental action against you. They will then consider what action they may be able to take.

Some of the remedies available under the PID Act include:

  • applying to the Supreme Court for an order or injunction
  • applying to your employer to be relocated, if you are employed in a public sector agency
  • making a complaint to the Equal Opportunity Commission
  • taking action through a civil court as a tort.

Under the PID Act your confidentiality as a discloser is maintained and can only be revealed in accordance with the PID Act. For example, where you consent to your identity being known or where it is necessary for the matter to be effectively investigated. The PID officer will take all reasonable steps to let you know if your identity needs to be revealed during the process.

Does the PID Act protect the subject of my disclosure?

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The PID Act requires that natural justice (or procedural fairness) is given to anyone who is the subject of a disclosure so there are protections for the person or people involved in the wrongdoing.

Like the discloser, the subject’s identity can only be revealed in accordance with the PID Act.

Rights and responsibilities for disclosers

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Disclosers have rights and responsibilities under the PID Act and it’s important you understand these before making your disclosure.

Your rights include:

  • protection of your identity, in most cases
  • protection from reprisals, and legal remedies if they occur
  • protection from civil or criminal liability as a result of making a disclosure
  • protection from disciplinary action, dismissal or having your services dispensed with or otherwise terminated as a result of making a disclosure
  • protection for any breach of a duty of secrecy or confidentiality, or any other restriction on disclosure (whether or not imposed by a written law) applicable to that person
  • to be informed about the action taken (or proposed to be taken) regarding your disclosure
  • to be provided with progress reports, if requested.

You are responsible for considering the following before making a disclosure:

  • You must believe on reasonable grounds that the information you disclose is or may be true.
  • If you make a disclosure anonymously you are not entitled to updates on the progress or final reports about the disclosure.
  • You must not disclose information that might identify (or tend to identify) the person involved in the wrongdoing.
  • You must keep the information you have disclosed completely confidential, otherwise the PID Act cannot protect you.
  • You must assist the person investigating the disclosure by supplying any requested information. If you don’t, you may lose your protections under the PID Act.
  • It’s not your role to investigate the disclosure – doing this may affect the integrity of the investigation.

5 tips before making a disclosure

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Here are some more useful tips to consider before making your disclosure.

Seek advice from the relevant PID officer or, for a general discussion about the PID Act, telephone the Integrity Advisory Service on 6552 8888 before making your disclosure.

Be careful about who you make your disclosure to and how you make it. To be protected under the PID Act you must make your disclosure to a PID officer.

Be discreet by keeping your intentions to make a disclosure to yourself. Ensure your information is provided discreetly and don’t let anyone know you are going to make, or have made, a disclosure. Otherwise the protections in the PID Act will be difficult to apply.

Don't breach confidentiality. You may lose your protections under the PID Act and breach the confidentiality provisions.

Be confident of your information as you must believe on reasonable grounds that the information is or may be true. The information you have should be more than hearsay or gossip and deliberately providing false or misleading information carries significant penalties.

Page reviewed 2 July 2020