09 Jun 2016
Review of Queensland's public sector whistle-blower protection regime - the half-time score
By Eleanor Dickens, Barry Dunphy
Six key issues have been raised in the review of Queensland's Public Interest Disclosure Act.
The enactment of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2010 (Qld) (PID Act) in 2010 was part of a package of integrity based reforms that were announced by the then Queensland Government. The PID Act includes a requirement that the "oversight agency", being the Queensland Ombudsman, is to undertake a review into the operation of the PID Act within five years after the commencement of the PID Act.
The review of the PID Act is currently underway and is now at the half-way point. Six key issues have recently been identified by the Ombudsman as requiring further consideration.
The review process
When announcing the review of the PID Act in November 2015, the Ombudsman released an issues paper which sought submissions from stakeholders and interested parties by 15 January 2016. This raised a series of questions of relevance to the operation of the PID Act, including whether:
- the objects of the PID Act remained valid and whether the PID Act was effective;
- the definition of the term "public officer" under the PID Act and whether that term should be broadened to include contractors and volunteers;
- the scope of the PID Act to deal with complaints of wrongdoing that were essentially workplace complaints and whether a public interest test should be included as an additional criteria; and
- the confidentiality and reprisal protections for whistle-blowers under the PID Act remains appropriate.
At the halfway point
The review of the PID Act is now at the halfway point with the Ombudsman having received 26 submissions from a range of stakeholders including State Government Departments, Local Governments, statutory authorities and universities. The six key issues raised by stakeholders and interested parties are:
- how to more clearly define "public interest information" under the PID Act;
- reconsidering who can make a PID and the definition of "public officer" (for example, volunteers and contractors working within a public sector entity are not currently considered "public officers");
- the processes for managing confidentiality;
- the requirements for providing protection to disclosers and others who support a PID investigation;
- giving appropriate consideration and protection to an officer who is the subject of a PID; and
- the options for increasing the effectiveness of the PID oversight function.
The final outcome of the Ombudsman's review of the PID Act will be revealed by 31 December 2016 when the final report is to be presented by the Ombudsman to the Attorney-General and the Speaker of the Queensland Parliament.