Information for Disclosers
Public officials (disclosers) who suspect wrongdoing within the Commonwealth public sector can raise their concerns under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013 (PID Act).
Disclosers can expect that:
- their disclosure will be properly managed
- appropriate action will be taken in relation to any wrongdoing identified
- they will receive protection from detrimental treatment or reprisal action and immunities from criminal, civil and administrative liability.
To make a disclosure under the PID Act, and receive the protections and immunities in the PID Act, you must meet certain criteria. You must make a disclosure to a person authorised to receive it under the PID Act.
Current and former public officials are eligible to make public interest disclosures (PID).
- public servants and parliamentary service officers
- service providers under a Commonwealth contract
- Australian Defence Force members
- Australian Federal Police appointees
- statutory office holders
- staff of Commonwealth companies
- members of the intelligence community
- individuals taken to be public officials.
You can disclose information that you believe on reasonable grounds tends to show wrongdoing:
- within an Australian Government agency
- by a public official, or
- by a Commonwealth contracted service provider.
You may disclose the following types of suspected wrongdoing:
- contravention of a law
- conduct that perverts the course of justice
- wastage of public funds
- conduct that is an abuse of public trust
- conduct that unreasonably endangers health and safety or endangers the environment
- misconduct relating to scientific research, analysis or advice
- maladministration, including conduct that is unjust, oppressive or negligent
- conduct that is an abuse of a public official's position
- conduct that, if proved, would result in disciplinary action against a public official.
You cannot disclose:
- the proper activities of intelligence agencies
- disagreements that relate only to government policy (and related expenditure)
- the actions of parliamentarians.
Not all matters will fall under the PID Act. It may be more appropriate to deal with a disclosure under another process. Also, matters that have already been subject to a previous investigation process may not be further investigated under the PID Act.
You can make an internal PID to:
- the relevant Australian Government agency
- an appropriate official.
An authorised officer can accept a PID about their agency and from the officials who belong to it. Australian Government agencies appoint public officials as authorised officers.
Contact information for authorised officers is usually published on the relevant agency's website. If you are a current public official, you can make a PID to an authorised officer through your supervisor.
You can make a PID in person, by telephone or in writing, including by email. The procedures for receiving disclosures differ between agencies. For more information on how to make a PID to your agency, refer to the information on its website.
You can remain anonymous. If you do not provide a means of contact, it will be difficult for the agency to:
- investigate your disclosure
- communicate with you throughout the process.
Consider providing a pseudonym email address to enable communication.
It is best to make a disclosure with the relevant Australian Government agency.
If you believe that it is not appropriate for an agency to handle a disclosure, we can receive the PID.
Where we do accept a PID, we will work with the discloser and the agency to give that matter back to the agency for investigation.
Generally, we will only investigate a disclosure under the PID Act if:
- we assess the relevant Australian Government agency cannot handle the matter, or
- there is a conflict of interest, confidentiality or reprisal issue the agency cannot manage.
If you are not satisfied with the outcome of an agency’s handing of a PID, we can receive your complaint.
Where we investigate a complaint, we will look at whether an agency’s handling of a PID and their decisions were:
- fair in all the circumstances.
We will generally not re-investigate the matters disclosed in the PID.
The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security manages PIDs in relation to:
- Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO)
- Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS)
- Australian Signals Directorate (ASD)
- Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation (AGO)
- Defence Intelligence Organisation (DIO)
- Office of National Assessments (ONA)
Under this arrangement, sensitive or intelligence information is only shared with individuals that have appropriate security clearances.
This protects Australia's security, defence, foreign relations and other national interests.
Once you make a PID:
- An authorised officer must assess it and decide whether it is an internal PID. If so, the authorised officer will decide the process for handling the PID.
- If it is decided the matter is not an internal PID, then the discloser must be advised of the reasons.
- Once allocated for handling, the principal officer (or delegate) will decide whether to investigate the PID.
- If not investigated, the discloser must be advised of the reasons.
- If investigated, the investigation must be finalised within 90 days (or a longer period if permitted by the Ombudsman or the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security).
- Upon completion, the discloser must be provided with a report.
- Early in the process, the agency should assess the risks of reprisal in relation to a PID.
For more information about the process, see the following resources:
If your disclosure meets PID criteria, you will receive immunity from:
- criminal, or
- administrative liability (such as an action for defamation).
It is a criminal offence under the PID Act for anyone handling the PID to disclose your identity as the discloser without your consent (subject to some exceptions).
You are also protected from reprisals or threatened reprisals including:
- dismissal, or
- discrimination between you and other employees, even if you are only suspected to have made a PID.
You can take legal action if you suffer detriment as a result of making a disclosure.
These protections and immunities continue to apply after a PID investigation is finalised. The PID Act will not protect you:
- if you knowingly disclose false or misleading information, or
- from the consequences of your own wrongdoing which may be investigated as a result of the PID.
As a public official making a disclosure, you have a number of rights and responsibilities.
- To make a disclosure about suspected wrongdoing and have it assessed under the PID Act.
- Have your disclosure handled confidentially and efficiently.
- Have immunities from civil, criminal and administrative liability in relation to making a PID.
- Protections from detriment or reprisal caused to you because you made a disclosure or are suspected of having made a disclosure.
- be clear and accurate in the disclosure
- provide any relevant supporting material—do not report false or misleading information
- be discreet about your PID and maintain confidentiality throughout the PID process
- provide reasonable help as required during the investigation
- seek advice about the process and your rights and responsibilities
- alert the authorised officer or investigation officer to any problems that you may be facing. This includes possible reprisal action in relation to your disclosure
- seek appropriate support if you need it.
In limited circumstances, you have a right to make an 'external disclosure'. You can make an external disclosure to anyone, except a foreign public official.
The PID Act protects disclosers who have made an internal disclosure and either the investigation has:
- exceeded the time limit—over 90 days or such longer time as permitted by the Commonwealth Ombudsman or the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, or
- you believe the investigation or its outcome was inadequate.
The external disclosure must not, on balance, be contrary to the public interest. You may only disclose as much information as is necessary to identify the disclosable conduct.
In limited circumstances you may also make an 'emergency disclosure'. This can be made to anyone, except a foreign public official. You may make an 'emergency disclosure' if you believe there is real and imminent danger to:
- health or safety, or
- the environment.
You must not disclose any more information than is necessary in the circumstances to alert the recipient to the danger. Before making an emergency disclosure, you should first make an internal disclosure, unless there are exceptional circumstances for not doing so.
You should also wait for the completion of the internal disclosure investigation, unless there are exceptional circumstances to justify making an emergency disclosure before then.
An 'external disclosure' or 'emergency disclosure', must not include:
- intelligence-related matters, or
- sensitive law enforcement information.
If you do not meet the criteria for an external disclosure, you may:
- be in breach of your obligations as a public official to keep information confidential
- leave yourself open to prosecution or disciplinary action
- leave yourself open to civil action for defamation.
We can provide you with general information on the PID Act and the protections and immunities. For advice on the application of the PID Act to your particular circumstances, you may want to seek independent legal advice.
Disclosing information to a lawyer
You may give information to a lawyer provided you do not disclose intelligence information (defined in the PID Act) for:
- the purposes of seeking legal advice, or
- professional help about making a disclosure.
The lawyer should have an appropriate security clearance if you are discussing information with a national security or other protective security classification.
Approach an authorised officer in your agency
To make a PID, approach an authorised officer (directly or through your supervisor) within the relevant agency. Each agency subject to the PID Scheme should have information on its website about its authorised officers.
Talk to our Office about making a PID
If you have a concern about making a PID to the relevant agency, you can contact us to discuss your options.
- Write to the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s PID Team at: GPO Box 442, Canberra ACT 2601. Any envelopes or packaging should be marked 'Confidential Agency PID'
- Email: PID@ombudsman.gov.au. The subject line should indicate which agency the disclosure is about—this could be as simple as 'PID about Department of XYZ'.
- Call our PID Team on 02 6276 3777 and follow the relevant prompts.
In making the report, please make sure you provide us with:
- Information about the wrongdoing, or suspected wrongdoing, that you wish to disclose.
- Information about why you believe we should investigate the matters raised, instead of the relevant Australian Government agency.
- Contact information—where you wish to remain anonymous, consider providing a pseudonym email address or personal phone number to allow us to communicate with you throughout the process.
You can view our privacy statement relating to our PID function here.
Talk to the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security about making a PID
If you wish to make a disclosure about any of the intelligence agencies you should contact the agency concerned in the first instance, if this is possible.
If this is not possible, or there are special reasons why this might be inappropriate (for example, if the potential discloser holds concerns about possible reprisal action if their identity is disclosed), potential disclosers should contact the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security:
Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, 1 National Circuit BARTON ACT 2600. Phone: 02 6271 5692 (ask to be transferred to a PID authorised officer).
You should not provide classified or sensitive material to the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security when you first contact it. The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security will make appropriate contact arrangements with you after your initial contact.
Complain to the Ombudsman's Office
If you have already made a PID to an Australian Government agency and you are unhappy with how it was handled, you can complain to our Office.
To make a complaint, contact us on:
- Phone: 02 6276 3777
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Post: Attention Authorised Officer, Public Interest Disclosure Team, Commonwealth Ombudsman, GPO Box 442, Canberra, ACT, 2600.
You can view our privacy statement relating to our complaint function here.
Public officials wishing to make a PID about our Office should follow the process outlined here.
For further information or assistance regarding the Public Interest Disclosure (PID), phone 02 6276 3777 or email PID@ombudsman.gov.au