Fact Sheet 19 - The role of the Protected Disclosure Coordinator during investigations

The Protected Disclosure Act 2012 seeks to encourage people to make disclosures of improper conduct and detrimental action. It provides protection for people who make disclosures or cooperate with investigations.
 
Employed by public sector agencies, Protected Disclosure Coordinators (PD Coordinators) are nominated to receive potential protected disclosures and notify the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC).
 
PD Coordinators also play a vital role in protected disclosure complaint investigations by:
  • assisting IBAC and Victorian Ombudsman (VO) officers
  • supporting the welfare of disclosers
  • ensuring staff are aware of the protected disclosure legislation.

Starting an investigation

VO notifies the Minister and relevant principal officer of the commencement of the investigation. VO officers will also notify the PD Coordinator in writing if their assistance may be needed. The VO officer responsible for the investigation will then usually call the PD Coordinator or request a meeting to discuss VO’s processes, expectations and request any information required.

Maintaining confidentiality

The Protected Disclosure Act contains strict confidentiality provisions. Part 7 of the Protected Disclosure Act makes it an offence to disclose the content of a disclosure or the identity of the discloser, except in limited circumstances.
 
Section 74 of the Protected Disclosure Act makes it an offence to disclose the fact that a disclosure has been notified to IBAC for assessment or the fact that a disclosure has been determined to be a protected disclosure complaint, except in certain circumstances.
 
Section 26FA of the Ombudsman Act 1973 makes it an offence to disclose certain information received from VO about protected disclosure complaints, except in limited circumstances.
 
To prevent breaches of confidentiality and to minimise the possibility of detrimental action, the agency must establish a secure electronic and/or paper filing system, which can only be accessed by authorised people.

Discreetly responding to requests for information

VO officers will often ask the PD Coordinator to gather information to assist the investigation.
 
VO expects that the PD Coordinator:
  • will not reveal they are gathering information for a protected disclosure investigation, unless authorised by VO officers
  • will obtain information discreetly or contact VO officers if they are unable to do so
  • will provide information by the due date set by VO or contact VO officers before that date if they cannot
  • will contact VO if they are unsure about any aspect of what they have been asked to do.
If VO requests a large amount of information, VO officers may ask the PD Coordinator to provide the information as it becomes available. VO also appreciates the PD Coordinator’s help in identifying other documents and data that may be relevant to the investigation.
 
Given the sensitive and confidential nature of some of the material VO officers request, it is vital that the PD Coordinator has enough authority within their agency to ask officers for the information requested without being questioned.
 
A large agency, or an agency with offices in several locations, may appoint a number of Protected Disclosure Officers to help the PD Coordinator respond to VO’s requests. In such cases, VO recommends that the PD Coordinator maintains oversight to ensure officers are aware of their legal obligations and that full and accurate information is provided to VO.

Advising staff of their rights and obligations

VO officers may refer witnesses and subjects of investigations to the PD Coordinator for general advice about their rights and obligations. The PD Coordinator should ensure that witnesses and subjects are familiar with policies, procedures and the relevant parts of the legislation, particularly their confidentiality obligations and the consequences of breaching the relevant Acts. Unless authorised by the Ombudsman, the PD Coordinator should not discuss the specifics of the matter under investigation.
 
VO officers may also refer a witness to the PD Coordinator if:
  • the witness needs help to arrange leave from work to attend an interview with VO officers
  • the witness seeks legal advice or representation for an interview or to respond to a VO report. 

Ensuring people’s welfare

VO officers may refer a discloser, or person who has cooperated or intends to cooperate with an investigation, to the PD Coordinator for welfare support. Please refer to IBAC’s Guidelines for Protected Disclosure Welfare Management for further information.
 
If you would like to discuss the role of the PD Coordinator during investigations, please use the details provided below.
 
Please note: This document is intended as a guide only. For this reason the information contained herein should not be relied on as legal advice or regarded as a substitute for legal advice in individual cases. To the maximum extent permitted by the law, The Victorian Ombudsman is not liable to you for any loss or damage suffered as a result of reliance on this document. For the most up-to-date versions of cited Acts, please refer to www.legislation.vic.gov.au.
 
© Copyright State of Victoria 2016                                                                         Issue Date Sep 2016   
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Contact Details

Victorian Ombudsman
Level 2
570 Bourke Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
Phone                     03 9613 6222
Toll free                  1800 806 314
Fax                         03 9602 4761
TTY                        133 677 or
                               1800 555 677
Interpreter service  131 450