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Public interest disclosure policy

Overview

WorkCover Queensland (WorkCover) is committed to ensuring the highest standards of professional and ethical conduct in our organisation. A Public Interest Disclosure (PID) is a disclosure in the public interest of information about wrongdoing in the public sector. WorkCover values the disclosure of information about suspected wrongdoing so that it can be properly assessed and, if necessary, appropriately investigated.

Purpose

This policy demonstrates how WorkCover will ensure practical and effective procedures are implemented to meet the requirements of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2010 (PID Act).

By complying with the PID Act, WorkCover will ensure that:

  • the public interest is promoted by facilitating public interest disclosures (PIDs) of wrongdoing;
  • any public officer who makes a PID is given appropriate support;
  • appropriate consideration is given to the interests of persons who are the subject of a PID;
  • PIDs made to WorkCover are properly assessed and, where appropriate, properly investigated and addressed;
  • appropriate action is taken in relation to any wrongdoing which is the subject of a PID;
  • a management program for PIDs made to WorkCover, consistent with the standards issued by the Queensland Ombudsman, is developed and implemented.; and
  • persons making PIDs are offered protection from reprisal by WorkCover or other public officers of WorkCover.

The PID policy and management program are reviewed annually and updated as required to ensure the requirements of the PID Act and the PID standards issued by the Queensland Ombudsman continue to be met.

Background

This policy is based on the following:

  • Public Interest Disclosure Act 2010 (PID Act)
  • Public Interest Disclosure Standard No.1/2019: PID Management Program (PID Standard No.1/2019)
  • Public Interest Disclosure Standard No.2/2019: Assessing, investigating and dealing with PIDs (PID Standard No.2/2019)
  • Public Interest Disclosure Standard No.3/2019: PID data recording and reporting (PID Standard No.3/2019)
  • Ombudsman Act 2001
  • Treasury Laws Amendment (Enhancing Whistleblower Protections) Act 2019
  • Crime and Corruption Act 2001
  • Public Records Act 2002
  • Public Sector Ethics Act 1994 (Qld)

This policy applies to all employees of WorkCover who must participate in PID training when requested in relation to this policy. Delegated officers involved in the PID process attend specialist training as required.

Related internal policies and procedures:

  • Customer complaints policy
  • Code of conduct policy
  • Risk management policy
  • Ethics policy
  • Fraud and corruption policy

Definitions

  1. means any action about a matter of administration, including, for example:
    1. a decision and an act; and
    2. a failure to make a decision or do an act, including a failure to provide a written statement of reasons for a decision; and
    3. the formulation of a proposal or intention; and (iii) the formulation of a proposal or intention; and
    4. the making of a recommendation, including a recommendation made to a Minister; and
    5. an action taken because of a recommendation made to a Minister; and
  2. does not include an operational action of a police officer or of an officer of the Crime and Corruption Commission.
  1. includes —
    1. information about the identity, occupation, residential or work address or whereabouts of a person —
      1. who makes a public interest disclosure; or
      2. against whom a public interest disclosure has been made; and
    2. information disclosed by a public interest disclosure; and
    3. information about an individual’s personal affairs; and
    4. information that, if disclosed, may cause detriment to a person; and
  2. does not include information publicly disclosed in a public interest disclosure made to a court, tribunal or other entity that may receive evidence under oath, unless further disclosure of the information is prohibited by law.

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

​Includes –

  1. personal injury or prejudice to safety; and
  2. property damage or loss; and
  3. intimidation or harassment; and
  4. adverse discrimination, disadvantage or adverse treatment about career, profession, employment, trade or business; and
  5. financial loss; and
  6. damage to reputation, including, for example, personal, professional or business reputation.

​As defined in section 11 of the Disability Services Act 2006.

​A person who makes a public interest disclosure in accordance with the PID Act.

​A person engaged in the occupation of writing or editing material intended for publication in the print or electronic news media.

​For the purposes of this policy, investigation includes any enquiry undertaken to establish whether the information.

​Schedule 4 of the PID Act defines maladministration as administrative action that:

  1. was taken contrary to law; or
  2. was unreasonable, unjust, oppressive, or improperly discriminatory; or
  3. was in accordance with a rule 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
  4. was taken –
    1. for an improper purpose; or
    2. on irrelevant grounds; or
    3. having regards to irrelevant considerations; or
  5. was an action for which reasons should have been given, but were not given; or
  6. was based wholly or partly on a mistake of law or fact; or
  7. was wrong.

​Natural justice, also referred to as ‘procedural fairness’ applies to any decision that can affect the rights, interests or expectations of individuals in a direct or immediate way. Natural justice is at law a safeguard applying to an individual whose rights or interests are being affected.

The rules of natural justice, which have been developed to ensure that decision-making is fair and reasonable, are:

  • avoid bias; and
  • give a fair hearing.
  • act only on the basis of logically probative evidence.

​A person or organisation that is authorised under the PID Act to receive disclosures.

Includes the health or safety of persons:

  • under lawful care or control; or
  • using community facilities or services provided by the public or private sector; or
  • in employment workplaces.

​A public officer, of a public sector entity, is an employee, member or officer of the entity.

​A view which is objectively fair or sensible.

​Reasonable management action taken by a manager in relation to an employee, includes any of the following taken by the manager—

  1. a reasonable appraisal of the employee’s work performance;
  2. a reasonable requirement that the employee undertake counselling;
  3. a reasonable suspension of the employee from the employment workplace;
  4. a reasonable disciplinary action;
  5. a reasonable action to transfer or deploy the employee;
  6. a reasonable action to end the employee’s employment by way of redundancy or retrenchment;
  7. a reasonable action in relation to an action mentioned in paragraphs (a) to (f);
  8. a reasonable action in relation to the employee’s failure to obtain a promotion, reclassification, transfer or benefit, or to retain a benefit, in relation to the employee’s employment.

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:

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

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

​An officer who is the subject of allegations of wrongdoing made in a disclosure.

​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.

​For the purposes of this policy, support means actions such as, but not limited to:

  • providing moral and emotional support;
  • advising disclosers about agency resources available to handle any concerns they have as a result of making their disclosure;
  • appointing a mentor, confidante or other support officer to assist the discloser through the process;
  • referring the discloser to the agency’s Employee Assistance Program;
  • ensuring that any suspicions of victimisation or harassment are dealt with;
  • maintaining contact with the discloser; and

negotiating with the discloser and their support officer a formal end to their involvement with the support program when it is agreed they no longer need the assistance.

PID Management Program

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) has overall responsibility for ensuring that WorkCover develops, implements and maintains  a PID management program. The PID management program at WorkCover encompasses:

  • commitment to encouraging the internal reporting of wrongdoing;
  • Senior Leader endorsement of the value to WorkCover of PIDs and the proper management of PIDs;
  • a communication strategy to raise awareness among employees about PIDs and WorkCover’s PID procedure;
  • a training strategy to give employees access to training about how to make a PID, information on the support available to a discloser, and advice on how PIDs will be managed;
  • specialist training and awareness about PIDs for Senior Leaders and other employees who may receive or manage PIDs, disclosers or workplace issues relating to PIDs;
  • the appointment of delegated officers to be responsible for issues related to the management of PIDs;
    ensuring effective systems and procedures are in place so that issues and outcomes from PIDs inform
  • improvements to service delivery, business processes and internal controls; and
  • regular review of the PID policy and evaluation of the effectiveness of the PID management program.

The CEO has delegated the following roles and responsibilities for managing PIDS within WorkCover.

Officer

Head of Risk and Assurance

Responsibilities

  • ​principal contact for PID issues including tax disclosers within WorkCover
  • document and manage implementation of PID
  • review and update PID policy annually
  • maintain and update internal records of PIDs received
  • report data on PIDs to Queensland Ombudsman
  • assess PIDs received
  • provide acknowledgment of receipt of PID to discloser
  • undertake risk assessments in consultation with disclosers and other relevant officers
  • liaise with other agencies about referral of PIDs
  • allocate Investigator and Support Officer to PID matter
  • liaise with CEO on requests for review of decisions to not investigate or deal with a PID

Officer

Member of the People and Workplace Experience team or other appropriate person

Responsibilities

  • ​provide advice and information to discloser on WorkCover’s PID procedure
  • provide personal support and referral to other sources of advice or support as required
  • facilitate updates on progress of investigation
  • proactively contact discloser throughout PID management process

Officer

An appropriate internal or external investigator will be appointed for each PID investigated depending upon the type of disclosure and other relevant considerations.

The CEO will appoint the investigator in the event the matter being investigated relates to risk and assurance.

Responsibilities

  • conduct investigation of information in PID in accordance with terms of reference
  • prepare report for delegated decision maker

Officer

An appropriate decision maker will be appointed for each PID investigated.

The CEO is the ultimate decision maker for any action as a result of internal investigations.

Responsibilities

  • ​Review investigation report and determine whether alleged wrongdoing is substantiated

What is a PID?

A PID is a disclosure in the public interest, of information about wrongdoing in the public sector. Any person (whether or not they are a public officer) 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, or contravention of a condition imposed under a provision of the legislation mentioned in Schedule 2 of the PID Act, if the offence or contravention would be a substantial and specific danger to the environment; or
  • reprisal because of a belief that a person has made, or intends to make a disclosure.

In addition, public officers (i.e. WorkCover employees) can make disclosures about the following public interest matters:

  • corrupt conduct;
  • maladministration that adversely affects a person’s interests in a substantial and specific way;
  • a substantial misuse of public resources;
  • a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety; or
  • a substantial and specific danger to the environment.

An appropriate disclosure is where:

  • the discloser has an honest and reasonable belief that the information provided tends to show the conduct or danger; or
  • the 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. The discloser is not required to undertake any investigative action before making a disclosure.

An issue in relation to the acceptance or rejection of an individual workers' compensation claim is not a PID. Issues such as these are managed through WorkCover's review process. Complaints about WorkCover's services are managed through WorkCover's Customer complaints policy.

A discloser amounts to a PID and is covered by the PID Act even if the:

  • discloser reports the information as part of their duties i.e. an auditor reporting a fraud or an occupational health and safety officer reporting a safety breach;
  • disclosure is made anonymously i.e. the discloser is not required to give their name or any identifying information;
  • discloser has not identified the material as a PID i.e. it is up to WorkCover to assess information received and decide if it is a PID; and/or
  • disclosure is unsubstantiated following investigation i.e. the discloser is protected when the information they provide is assessed as a PID, whether or not it is subsequently investigated or found to be substantiated.

Why make a PID?

Employees who are prepared to speak up about public sector misconduct, wastage of public funds, suspected unlawful activity or danger to health, safety or the environment can be the most important sources of information to identify and address problems at WorkCover. The disclosure of information about wrongdoing is supported because:

  • implementing systems for reporting and dealing with wrongdoing contributes to the integrity of WorkCover;
  • the outcomes of PIDs can include improvements to systems that prevent fraud and other economic loss to WorkCover; and
  • the community's trust in WorkCover is strengthened by having strong processes in place for reporting wrongdoing.

When making a PID the discloser receives the protections provided under the PID Act, including:

  • confidentiality i.e. the discloser's name and other identifying information will be protected to the extent possible;
  • protection against reprisal i.e. the discloser is protected from unfair treatment by WorkCover and employees of WorkCover as a result of making the PID;
  • immunity from liability i.e. the discloser cannot be prosecuted for disclosing the information but is not exempt from action if they engaged in wrongdoing; and
  • protection from defamation i.e. the discloser has a defence against an accusation of defamation by any subject officer.

How to make a PID?

A PID must be made to a proper authority to receive disclosures of the type being made. Disclosers are initially encouraged to make a disclosure to an appropriate officer of WorkCover. If the matter is not resolved, or the discloser is concerned about confidentiality, the disclosure may be made externally to a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MP) or another appropriate agency, such as:

  • the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) for disclosures about corrupt conduct from reprisal;
  • the Queensland Ombudsman for disclosures about maladministration; or
  • the Queensland Audit Office for disclosures about a substantial misuse of resources.

A discloser can make a PID, either verbally or in writing. A person can make a PID directly to WorkCover:

  • through the email address PID@workcoverqld.com.au ;
  • in writing (Attn: PID Coordinator, WorkCover Queensland, GPO BOX 2459, Brisbane Qld 4001);
  • to any person in a leadership position;
  • to People and Workplace Experience;
  • to WorkCover's CEO; or
  • to a member of WorkCover's Board.

The recipient of the PID should immediately liaise with the PID coordinator for guidance before taking any actions, including investigation.

A disclosure can also be made to a journalist if a valid PID was initially made to a proper authority and the property authority:

  • decided not to investigate or deal with the disclosure; or
  • the disclosure but did not recommend taking any action; or
  • failed to notify the discloser within six months of making the disclosure whether or not the disclosure was to be investigated or otherwise dealt with.

A person who makes a disclosure to a journalist in these circumstances is protected under the PID Act. However, disclosers should be aware that journalists are not bound under the confidentiality provisions of section 65 of the PID Act.

To assist in the assessment, and any subsequent investigation of a PID, disclosers are requested to:

  • provide contact details i.e. email address or phone number;
  • provide as much information as possible about the suspected wrongdoing, including:
    • who was involved
    • what, when and where it happened
    • whether there were any witnesses, and if so, who they are
    • any evidence that supports the PID, and where the evidence is located
    • any further information that could help investigate the PID
  • provide this information in writing.

Deciding whether a matter is a PID

If there is any doubt as to whether a matter is a PID, further information may be obtained to inform the decision. If doubt still remains, the matter will be considered and managed as a PID.

It is an offence under the PID Act to intentionally give false or misleading information intending it be acted on as a PID. Employees may be subject to disciplinary action for intentionally giving false or misleading information in a PID, or during an investigation into a PID.

In circumstances where a discloser states they are making a PID, but it is assessed that the matter is not a PID, WorkCover will advise the discloser:

  • that their information has been received but was not assessed as a PID;
  • the reasons for the decision;
  • the review rights available if the discloser is dissatisfied with the decision and how to request a review;
  • any action WorkCover proposes to take in relation to the matter; and
  • any other options the discloser has in relation to the matter.

Assessing a PID

The PID Coordinator will assess the disclosure in accordance with the PID Act, the PID standards and WorkCover’s PID policy, and any other relevant procedures.

Once the matter has been assessed as a PID, the PID Coordinator will advise the discloser:

  • that their information has been received and assessed as a PID;
  • the action to be taken by WorkCover in relation to the disclosure, which could include referring the matter to an external agency, or investigating;
  • the likely timeframe involved;
  • the name and contact details of WorkCover’s Support Officer they can contact for updates and advice;
    of the disclosers’ obligations regarding confidentiality;
  • the protections the discloser has under the PID Act;
  • the commitment of WorkCover to keep appropriate records and maintain confidentiality, except where permitted under the PID Act;
  • how updates regarding intended actions and outcomes will be provided to the discloser; and
  • contact details for WorkCover’s Employee Assistance Program or other appropriate support services.

If the PID has been made anonymously and the discloser has not provided any contact details, WorkCover will not be able to acknowledge the PID or provide any updates.

Referring a PID

WorkCover may decide there is another proper authority that is better able to deal with the PID, and refer the PID to that agency. This may be because:

  • the PID concerns wrongdoing by that agency or an employee of that agency; or
  • that agency has the power to investigate or remedy the matter.

It may also be necessary to refer the PID to another agency because of a legislative obligation such as the referral to CCC where there is reasonable suspicion that the matter involves or may involve corrupt conduct.

Where it is decided that a matter is to be referred to another entity, prior to referral the PID Coordinator will conduct a risk assessment and the referral will not proceed if there is an unacceptable risk of reprisal.

The confidentiality obligations of the PID Act permit appropriate officers of WorkCover to communicate with another agency about the referral of a PID. The officers will exercise discretion in their contacts with any other agency.

The discloser will be advised of the action taken by WorkCover.

Risk assessment and protection from reprisal

The PID Coordinator will conduct a risk assessment upon receipt of a PID to assess the likelihood of the discloser (or witnesses or affected third parties) suffering reprisal action as a result of having made the disclosure. Actions may include developing a specific strategy to reduce the level of risk to the discloser (or witnesses or affected third parties).

A risk assessment will be undertaken if the discloser is anonymous on the basis of information available in the PID. The risk assessment will also take into account the risk to persons who may be suspected of making the PID. The PID Coordinator will develop and implement a risk management plan consistent with the assessed level of risk and arrange any reasonably necessary support or protection for the discloser (or witnesses or affected third parties). The risk of reprisal is regularly assessed whilst managing the PID and, if required the risk management plan is reviewed.

In the event of reprisal action being alleged or suspected, the PID Coordinator will:

  • attend to the safety of the discloser (or witnesses or affected third parties) as a matter of priority;
  • review the risk assessment, risk management plan and any protective measures needed to mitigate any further risk of reprisal; and
  • manage any allegation of a reprisal as a PID in its own right.

Declining to take action on a PID

The PID Coordinator may decide not to investigate or deal with a PID in various circumstances, including:

  • the information disclosed has already been investigated or dealt with by another process;
  • the information disclosed should be dealt with by another process;
  • the age of the information makes it impractical to investigate;
  • the information disclosed is too trivial and dealing with it would substantially and unreasonably divert WorkCover from the performance of its functions; or
  • another agency with jurisdiction to investigate the information has informed WorkCover that an investigation is not warranted.

If a decision is made not to investigate or deal with a PID, the PID Coordinator will give the discloser written reasons for that decision. If the discloser is dissatisfied with the decision they can request a review by writing to WorkCover’s CEO within 28 days of receiving the written reasons for decision.

Communication with disclosers

The PID Coordinator, will acknowledge receipt of the PID in writing as soon as practicable. The discloser will be provided with information that meets the requirements of the PID Act and the PID standards, including:

  • the action taken in response to the PID;
  • the protections under the PID Act;
  • confidentiality obligations of the discloser and WorkCover; and
  • support arrangements

WorkCover will maintain contact with the discloser and provide regular updates during the management of the PID.

After finalising action in response to the PID, the PID Coordinator will advise the discloser in writing of the action taken and the results of the action.

Confidentiality

WorkCover will make every attempt to protect confidential information throughout the PID process. A discloser’s identity may need to be disclosed to provide natural justice to subject officers or respond to a court order, legal directive or court proceedings.

WorkCover can make a record or disclose confidential information in the following circumstances:

  • for the purpose of administering the PID Act;
  • if the person to whom the confidential information relates consents to the disclosure;
  • if the person cannot reasonably get the consent to whom the confidential information relates;
  • and if the disclosure is unlikely to affect the interests of the person to whom the disclosure relates and is reasonable in all circumstances;
  • if the disclosure of the confidential information is necessary to provide for the safety or welfare of a person; or
  • to comply with another Act.

The following people at WorkCover, when necessary, will have access to PIDs including the information in the PID register, unless with the discloser's prior consent has been obtained or where required by law:

  • PID Coordinator;
  • the appointed PID Support Officer;
  • People and Workplace Experience;
  • the appointed investigator;
  • CEO;
  • Board; and
  • Risk and Audit Committee.

Support for disclosers

WorkCover recognises that providing appropriate support to a discloser is an important feature of effective PID management.

An employee who has made a PID in accordance with the PID Act:

  • is not subject to any civil or criminal liability or any liability arising by way of administrative process, including disciplinary action, for making a disclosure;
  • has not committed an offence under any Act that imposes a duty to maintain confidentiality; and
  • has a defence of 'absolute privilege' in the case of a defamation action in relation to the information disclosed in the PID.

The PID Coordinator will undertake an assessment to identify the support needs of a discloser. Where appropriate, a PID Support Officer will be assigned to the discloser. The PID Support Officer will assist the discloser to access information about PIDs, protections available under the PID Act and the PID management process. The PID Support Officer will proactively contact the discloser to offer support.

Information and support will be provided to the discloser until the matter is finalised.

Making a PID does not prevent reasonable management action. That means that the discloser will continue to be managed in accordance with normal, fair and reasonable management practices during and after the handling of the PID.

Investigating a PID

If the PID Coordinator makes the decision to investigate a PID, this will be done with consideration for the:

  • principles of natural justice;
  • obligation under the PID Act to protect confidential information;
  • obligation under the PID Act to protect officers from reprisal; and
  • interests of subject officers.

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

Where the investigation does not substantiate wrongdoing, WorkCover will review systems, policies and procedures to identify whether there are improvements that can be made and consider if employee training is required.

Rights of subject officer

Subject officers who have had a PID made against them are assumed to be innocent of allegations until there is evidence to the required standard of proof to show otherwise.

WorkCover will protect their rights by:

  • assuring them that the PID will be dealt with impartiality, fairly and reasonably in accordance with the principles of natural justice;
  • confirming that the PID is an allegation only until information or evidence obtained through an investigation substantiates the allegation;
  • providing them with information about their rights and the progress and outcome of any investigation; and
  • referring them to the Employee Assistance Program for support.

Information and support will be provided to a subject office until the matter is finalised.

Record keeping and reporting

In accordance with its obligations under the PID Act and the Public Records Act 2002, WorkCover will ensure that:

  • accurate data is collected about the receipt and management of PIDs through the maintenance of a PID register; and
  • anonymised data is reported to the Queensland Ombudsman in their role as the oversight agency, through the PID reporting database.

Records about disclosures, investigations and related decisions will be kept secure and accessible only to appropriately delegated officers involved in the management of the PID.

PIDs will be reported quarterly to the Risk and Audit Committee.

Tax whistleblower protections

Under Treasury Laws Amendment (Enhancing Whistleblower Protections) Act 2019, protections are offered for tax whistleblowers making eligible disclosures, which may include non-compliance with tax laws or tax avoidance behaviour. To quality for protection, the disclosure must be made to:

  • the ATO Commissioner or a member of the ATO audit team;
  • an auditor of the whistleblower entity; or
  • the PID Coordinator.

Further information

For further clarification of this policy, please email PID@workcoverqld.com.au