Manual of Policies and Procedures

B/8.3 Public interest disclosure management

Contact Officer

Director, Office of the Vice-President (Administration) and Registrar

Approval Date

11/10/2017

Approval Authority

Council

Date of Next Review

30/09/2020

8.3.1 Purpose
8.3.2 Application
8.3.3 Roles and responsibilities
8.3.4 Making a disclosure
8.3.5 Assessment of disclosure
8.3.6 Responding to a public interest disclosure
8.3.7 Protection of discloser
8.3.8 Providing information on actions and outcomes
8.3.9 Disclosure relating to the Vice-President (Administration) and Registrar
8.3.10 Recordkeeping and confidentiality
8.3.11 Reprisal action and breaches of policy
8.3.12 PID oversight agency
8.3.13 Definitions
8.3.14 Delegations
Related Documents
Modification History

8.3.1 Purpose

The Public Interest Disclosure Act 2010 (Qld) 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 QUT, or about danger to public health or safety or the environment.

QUT encourages the reporting of wrongdoing. 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. The University will receive and manage public interest disclosures in accordance with the Act and applicable standards issued by the Queensland Ombudsman.

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8.3.2 Application

This policy applies to a public interest disclosure (PID) as defined in the Public Interest Disclosure Act. All University staff are considered public officers for the purposes of this policy, whether appointed on an ongoing, fixed term, sessional or casual basis.

A public officer (including but not limited to a QUT staff member) may make a public interest disclosure about:

  • corrupt conduct as defined by the Crime and Corruption Act 2001 (Qld)
  • maladministration that adversely affects anyone’s interests in a substantial and specific way
  • 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
  • conduct by another person causing a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety or to the environment.

Any person (including a public officer) may make a public interest 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
  • 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.

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.

The Act sets out the circumstances in which a disclosure about these matters will be protected as a PID, including the requirement to make a disclosure in the manner set out in the Act (that is, to a proper authority as set out in B/8.3.4 or in accordance with procedures specified by the University).   

In order for a disclosure to be treated as a PID, the discloser must have an honest belief on reasonable grounds that the information disclosed tends to show the conduct or danger noted above (subjective test).  Alternatively, the information tends to show the conduct or danger, regardless of whether the person honestly believes it (objective test).

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8.3.3 Roles and responsibilities

Position
Responsibility

Vice-President (Administration) and Registrar (PID coordinator)

  • receives and assesses disclosures to determine whether they meet the definition of a PID
  • appoints the case manager 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.

PID case manager (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 (but has no involvement in the investigation)
  • advises the discloser of progress
  • endeavours to ensure that the expectations of the discloser are realistic
  • keeps records of all aspects of case management
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

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8.3.4 Making a disclosure

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.

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 QUT staff member or other QUT officer should be in writing and made to the Vice-President (Administration) and Registrar (except as set out in B/8.3.9 below).

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, or a Member of the Queensland Parliament.

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 Director, Assurance and Risk Management Services, and where the disclosure relates to reprisal action in regard to the employment of the discloser, to the Executive Director, Human Resources.

If a staff member makes a disclosure to another staff member or QUT officer (including a Council member), the disclosure should be referred immediately to the Vice-President (Administration) and Registrar for management under this policy (except as set out in B/8.3.9 below).

The Public Interest Disclosure Act protects certain disclosures made to some external Queensland government agencies. QUT will fully cooperate with an external agency that is authorised by the Act to investigate a disclosure.

 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.

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 policy.

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8.3.5 Assessment of disclosure

The Vice-President (Administration) and Registrar is responsible for assessing any disclosure to determine if:

  • the disclosure concerns information or conduct about which a PID can be made (as described in section 8.3.2)
  • the disclosure has been made as set out in the Act or in accordance with the procedure set out in B/8.3.4.

Once assessed as a PID, the Vice-President (Administration) and Registrar will consider appropriate actions to be taken and may initiate a protection plan for the discloser (B/8.3.7). 

The Vice-President (Administration) and Registrar 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.  Any referral or notification required is undertaken by the Vice-President (Administration) and Registrar.

If there is reasonable doubt about whether the disclosure may constitute a PID, the Vice-President (Administration) and Registrar will assume the disclosure is protected and manage it as if it were a PID.  If the Vice-President (Administration) and Registrar determines that the disclosure does not relate to a matter of public interest as required by B/8.3.2, the Vice-President (Administration) and Registrar 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.

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8.3.6 Responding to a public interest disclosure

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

In determining appropriate action, the Vice-President (Administration) and Registrar 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 (B/8.3.7), appropriate action may include:

  • taking immediate measures to halt conduct or remedy the danger to which the disclosure relates
  • implementing changes to policies, procedures or other internal processes or controls
  • 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 under MOPP D/2.7)
  • conducting an internal audit or review
  • formally investigating the disclosure.

The Vice-President (Administration) and Registrar 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.

Where an investigation is undertaken, an investigation report is provided to the Vice-President (Administration) and Registrar, and may include recommendations for action. Recommended actions may include additional training or improvements to systems or processes.

The Vice-President (Administration) and Registrar 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.

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8.3.7 Protection of discloser

A key element of the management of disclosures is the protection of the discloser from detriment or reprisal resulting from making the PID.

The Vice-President (Administration) and Registrar will develop a protection plan, following consultation with the discloser. The protection plan may involve:

  • 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
  • identification of protective measures proportionate and relevant to the risks of reprisal or detriment, including employee assistance and other support
  • processes for monitoring protective measures and addressing issues if required
  • development of measures to ensure confidentiality is maintained by all parties, including by the discloser
  • 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).  

Consistent with the Public Interest Disclosure 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.

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8.3.8 Providing information on actions and outcomes

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

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8.3.9 Disclosure relating to the Vice-President (Administration) and Registrar

Where a disclosure relates to conduct or actions of the Vice-President (Administration) and Registrar personally, the disclosure should be made to the Vice-Chancellor and President or, if received by another staff member or officer of QUT, must be referred immediately to the Vice-Chancellor and President. In this circumstance, the Vice-Chancellor and President will undertake the role of PID coordinator as set out in this policy.

Should a conflict of interest arise due to the Vice-President (Administration) and Registrar’s prior involvement in a case, this will be managed consistent with the requirements of the Conflict of interest policy (B/8.7). If the Vice-President (Administration) and Registrar steps aside due to a conflict issue, the Vice-Chancellor and President will undertake the role of PID coordinator.

The Vice-Chancellor and President may delegate the PID coordinator role to another senior officer in appropriate cases.

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8.3.10 Recordkeeping and confidentiality

The Vice-President (Administration) and Registrar must keep a record of all disclosures made under this policy (even where the disclosure is determined not to be a PID under the Act) and of the management steps taken. Records will be held in the corporate records system, with highly restricted access controls.

Confidentiality

In managing disclosures, the University will, to the greatest extent possible, keep the disclosure and the identity of the discloser confidential.  This confidential information may be disclosed, in accordance with relevant provisions of the Act to a respondent but only if it is essential in order to afford natural justice to that person, and if it is unlikely that a reprisal may be taken against the discloser.

All parties involved in a PID, including the discloser, are obliged to maintain confidentiality both during and after the PID process. This protects the rights of both the discloser and respondents, and minimises risks relating to reprisals.

Where other procedures are used (see B/8.3.6 above), this policy takes precedence in regard to management of communications to the discloser and to officers who are the subject of a complaint, in light of the confidentiality obligations of all parties.

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8.3.11 Reprisal action and breaches of policy

It is a breach of this policy and of the Public Interest Disclosure Act for a staff member to take reprisal action. 

Reprisal action is not tolerated or condoned by the University and disciplinary action may be taken against a staff member who engages in a reprisal.  Taking reprisal action may also constitute a criminal offence.

In managing public interest disclosures, the University will take reasonable steps to mitigate the risk of reprisal against a discloser (B/8.3.7) and other involved parties.  All parties involved with PID processes, including a discloser, must comply with the QUT Staff Code of Conduct. Failure to do so may result in disciplinary action.

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8.3.12 PID oversight agency

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

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8.3.13 Definitions

Discloser means a person who makes a PID about a matter concerning QUT. The discloser may be an employee or other officer of QUT, or for certain types of disclosure as described in B/8.3.2, may be any person (student, members of the public, etc).

PID is a public interest disclosure as that term is defined in the Public Interest Disclosure Act. 

Public officer is a staff member, a member of QUT Council or another University committee.
.
Reprisal means causing, attempt to or conspiring to cause, detriment to another person because, or in the belief that, a disclosure has been or may be made. It includes conduct such as exclusion, harassment, interference with personal property, denial of professional opportunities or a promotion, and other conduct negatively impacting on a person, but does not include reasonable management action (such as performance management processes or disciplinary action related to the discloser or others).

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8.3.14 Delegations

Refer to Appendix 3 Schedule of Authorities and Delegations (VC003).

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Related Documents

MOPP B/8.1 QUT Staff Code of Conduct

MOPP B/8.6 Corruption and Fraud Policy

MOPP B/8.7 Conflict of Interest

QUT Risk Management Framework

Public Interest Diisclosure Standard No. 1 issued by the Queensland Ombudsman

Making a public interest disclosure – A guide for individuals working in the public sector

Handling a public interest disclosure – A guide for public sector managers and supervisors

Managing public interest disclosures – A guide for public sector organisations

A checklist for making a public interest disclosure

Public Interest Disclosure Act 2010 (Qld)

Crime and Corruption Act 2001 (Qld)

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Modification History

Date Sections Source Details
11.10.17 All Council Revised and simplified policy
19.05.15 All Registrar Periodic review - minor editorial changes only
01.07.14 B/8.3.2, B/8.3.3, B/8.3.5, B/8.3.10 Governance and Legal Services Policy revised following the Crime and Misconduct and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2014
24.08.11 All Council Policy revised and renamed due to change in legislation
16.09.08 All Registrar Updated policy consistent with legislative amendments to Whistleblowers Protection Act 1994
02.07.03 All Vice-Chancellor Revised policy to enhance consistency with the Whistleblowers Protection Act 1994 (endorsed by Vice-Chancellors Advisory Committee 27.03.03)
28.05.98 All Council New policy

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