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Family Safety Victoria Public Interest Disclosure procedure

Family Safety Victoria can receive public interest disclosures in accordance with the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2012.

Quick reference guide to public interest disclosures

Who can make a disclosure? Any individual or group of individuals. A disclosure cannot be made by a business or company.
How do I make a disclosure? Verbally or in writing (but not by fax) in accordance with these procedures.
What can I make a disclosure about? Information that shows or tends to show, or that you believe on reasonable grounds shows or tends to show, that a public body or public officer have engaged, are engaging or are proposing to engage in improper conduct and/or detrimental action. This includes disclosures about Family Safety Victoria and/or its officers (including employees and contractors).
What is improper conduct?

Improper conduct includes corrupt conduct, and/or conduct by a public officer or public body in that capacity including (but not limited to):

  • A criminal offence.
  • Serious professional misconduct.
  • Dishonest performance of public functions.
  • Substantial mismanagement of public resources.
  • Substantial risk to the health and safety of others.

Improper conduct is defined in full at part 5.1 of this Procedure.

To whom can I make a disclosure? If you wish to make a disclosure about Family Safety Victoria or any of its officers, you may contact:
  • Family Safety Victoria’s Public Interest Disclosure Coordinators 
  • The Chief Executive Officer of Family Safety Victoria.
  • If you are an employee of Family Safety Victoria, your manager or supervisor or your line executive.
  • The Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC)

Victorian Government departments, administrative offices, councils, and the Victorian Public Sector Commission can receive disclosures about the conduct of their own agency or staff. If you wish to make a disclosure about another Victorian Government body or officer, refer to Appendix A for a list of receiving entities.

1. Introduction

The Public Interest Disclosure Scheme (PID Scheme) is a whistleblowing system established by the Public Interest Disclosures Act 2012 (Vic) (PID Act). Prior to 1 January 2020, it was known as the Protected Disclosure Scheme.

The PID Scheme is designed to support and encourage the reporting of corruption and other improper conduct within the Victorian Public Sector by providing protection to people who make disclosures. Reporting suspected or known instances of improper conduct by public bodies and/or public sector officials or employees is important in maintaining integrity and accountability of the Victorian Public Sector as it allows corruption and improper conduct to be identified and investigated and therefore helps to prevent corruption and improper conduct from continuing to occur.

The Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) administers the PID Scheme including receiving the majority of disclosures in the first instance and being the assessor of disclosures notified to it from public bodies. This assists the IBAC in its role to identify, investigate, expose and prevent corrupt conduct and other improper conduct within the Victorian Public Sector.

1.1 Family Safety Victoria

Family Safety Victoria was established in 2017 as an Administrative Office in relation to the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services (the department). It was set up to drive key elements of Victoria’s family violence strategy and to coordinate support for families to help them care for children and young people.

Family Safety Victoria’s vision is to create a future where all Victorians are safe and where children grow up in environments that are built on gender equality and respectful relationships.

1.2 Purpose

This Public Interest Disclosure Procedure (Procedure) has been prepared for Family Safety Victoria employees and members of the public who want to provide information in confidence about improper conduct or detrimental action by Family Safety Victoria or its officers.

This Procedure outlines the processes that Family Safety Victoria has in place to facilitate the making of disclosures, for receiving and handling disclosures, and to provide information to potential disclosers on the PID Scheme.

This Procedure is established by Family Safety Victoria under section 58(1) of the PID Act.

1.3 Scope

1.3.1 Making a disclosure

This Procedure is relevant to any individual who wants to make a disclosure about Family Safety Victoria, or a Family Safety Victoria officer (including employees and contractors). A disclosure can be made to Family Safety Victoria in relation to a Family Safety Victoria employee working within The Orange Door.

1.3.2 Receiving and handling a disclosure

Only certain people at Family Safety Victoria can receive a public interest disclosure. This will be discussed at Part 4.1.

Any individual can make a disclosure to Family Safety Victoria’s Public Interest Disclosure Coordinator or Chief Executive Officer. A Family Safety Victoria employee can make a disclosure about Family Safety Victoria or a Family Safety Victoria officer to their manager or supervisor or their line executive. All managers, supervisors and executives should be aware of these procedures and how to receive and manage a disclosure.

Further information on conduct that can be the subject of a public interest disclosure is outlined at Part 5.1 and 5.2 of this Procedure.

Factsheet: Making a Disclosure

Factsheet: Information for Managers/Supervisors

2. What is a Public Interest Disclosure?

A public interest disclosure or PID (formerly known as a protected disclosure) is a disclosure by a natural person of information about improper conduct engaged in by a public body, public officer or a person, or detrimental action taken or proposed to be taken by a public body or a public officer.

To meet the definition of a public interest disclosure the information disclosed must be information that either shows or tends to show, OR the person disclosing reasonably believes shows or tends to show, that:

  1. a person, public officer or public body has engaged, is engaging or proposes to engage in improper conduct, or
  2. a public officer or public body has taken, is taking or proposes to take detrimental action against a person in contravention of section 45 of the PID Act

3. Who can make a disclosure?

Any person can make a public interest disclosure about improper conduct engaged in, or detrimental action taken by, FSV or one of its officers.

You can make a public interest disclosure if you are a member of the public, an employee or officer of Family Safety Victoria, or an employee or officer of a department or other public body.

You can make a disclosure as an individual or together with a group of individuals. A company or business cannot make a public interest disclosure.

You can ask someone else to make a disclosure on your behalf, however, only that person will receive the full protection of the PID Act in relation to that disclosure. Your protection will be limited to confidentiality and protection against detrimental action taken against you in reprisal for the disclosure that has been made. In such circumstances it is recommended that you make the disclosure jointly.

You do not have to specifically refer to the PID Act or the protections in the PID Act for your disclosure to be a public interest disclosure. You may also advise that you do not want your disclosure to be treated as a public interest disclosure.

4. How do I make a disclosure?

You may make a disclosure:

  • in person
  • by phone
  • by leaving a voicemail message
  • in writing by post, personal delivery or email
  • by any other form of electronic communication except for facsimile (fax)

You may not make a public interest disclosure by fax.

If you expressly state that your disclosure is not a public interest disclosure, it will not fall under the PID Scheme and cannot be treated as a public interest disclosure or notified to IBAC.

A public interest disclosure must be made in private so it is important that only the person to whom you are making the disclosure to can hear or receive your disclosure. For example, if you make your disclosure by email, your disclosure should be sent to the email address of the person to whom you are making the disclosure to, rather than a group email. You are not precluded from making a joint disclosure with a group of individuals at the same time. 

If you are making your disclosure verbally, the person receiving your disclosure may take notes of your discussion. The person receiving your disclosure may also want to record the conversation but will only do so with your permission.

You do not have to identify yourself when making a disclosure. An anonymous disclosure can be made by using unverifiable email addresses, through anonymous phone calls, or in a face-to-face conversation or meeting where you do not identify yourself.

However, if your disclosure is anonymous, this may affect how the disclosure is investigated and you will not be notified of the outcome of any investigation. This will also affect Family Safety Victoria’s ability to protect you from adverse measures if your identity becomes known. If you cannot be identified from the disclosure, the disclosure will be treated as an anonymous disclosure.

4.1 To whom can the disclosure be made?

In relation to a disclosure about Family Safety Victoria or a Family Safety Victoria officer, a public interest disclosure may be made or addressed to the following permitted persons:

  • The Chief Executive Officer of Family Safety Victoria (as the head of Family Safety Victoria).
  • Family Safety Victoria’s Public Interest Disclosure Coordinators:
  • If you are a Family Safety Victoria employee, your manager or supervisor or your line executive.
  • A person formally acting in any of the above roles.

OR

  • A public interest disclosure can be made directly to the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC):

If your disclosure is not about the conduct of Family Safety Victoria or its officers, it should not be made to Family Safety Victoria. Refer to Appendix A for a list of receiving entities and the bodies or officers about which they can receive disclosures.

4.2 Misdirected disclosures

The PID Act provides that where a disclosure is made to an entity which can ordinarily receive public interest disclosures and the discloser believed it to be the correct place for the particular disclosure, but it is not the correct place, the disclosure can still be received and may be notified to IBAC for assessment. A misdirected disclosure will receive the same protections as if it was received by the correct receiver.

For example, if a discloser believed that it could make a disclosure about an employee of the department to Family Safety Victoria, this would be a misdirected disclosure and would be assessed by the receiving entity (i.e. Family Safety Victoria) to determine whether to notify to IBAC as appropriate.

5. What can I make a disclosure about?

You can make a disclosure about information that shows or tends to show, or that you believe on reasonable grounds shows or tends to show, that a public body or public officer has engaged in, is engaging in, or is proposing to engage in improper conduct or detrimental action.

You can also make a disclosure about information that shows or tends to show, or that you believe on reasonable grounds shows or tends to show that a person (not a public officer) has engaged in, is engaging in, or is proposing to engage in certain improper conduct.

You can make a disclosure even if you cannot identify or name the person or body to whom or which the disclosure relates.

5.1 Improper conduct

Improper conduct includes:

  • corrupt conduct, and/or
  • any of the following conduct by a public officer or public body in their capacity as a public officer or public body:
    • a criminal offence
    • serious professional misconduct
    • dishonest performance of public functions
    • an intentional breach or reckless breach of public trust
    • an intentional or reckless misuse of information or material acquired in the course of the performance of public function
    • a substantial mismanagement of public resources
    • a substantial risk to the health or safety of one or more persons, or
    • a substantial risk to the environment, and/or
  • conduct by a third party that adversely affects the honest performance of a public officer or public body or is intended to adversely affect the effective performance of a public officer or public body while obtaining an advantage for the third party, and/or
  • conduct by a third party that could constitute a conspiracy or attempt to engage in any of the above.

Less serious or trivial complaints are excluded from the definition of improper conduct.

Corrupt conduct

Corrupt conduct is defined in the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission Act 2011 as conduct that:

  • adversely affects the honest performance of functions by a public officer or public body
  • constitutes or involves the dishonest performance of functions by a public officer or public body
  • constitutes or involves a breach of public trust
  • involves a misuse of information acquired in the performance of functions as a public officer or public body
  • is intended to adversely affect the performance or exercise of functions by a public officer or public body and result in the person or an associate obtaining an advantage, or
  • involves a conspiracy or an attempt to engage in any of the above conduct

AND

  • would constitute:
    • an indictable offence
    • an attempt to pervert the course of justice
    • bribery of a public official
    • perverting the course of justice, or
    • misconduct in public office

Serious professional misconduct

Serious Professional Misconduct is not defined in the PID Act. IBAC considers that this may include: “conduct that constitutes a serious breach of an established professional code of conduct and/or other serious departures from the person’s professional responsibilities. This may include a serious failure to exhibit the skills and experience required to perform the functions of the office, as well as non-compliance with professional codes of conduct or policies, procedures and laws that govern behaviour in the public sector and the workplace.” [Extracted from IBAC’s Frequently asked questions on The Integrity and Accountability Legislation Amendment (Public Interest Disclosures, Oversight and Independence) Act 2019]

5.2 Detrimental Action

Detrimental action is defined in the PID Act as action taken against a person in reprisal for a public interest disclosure and includes:

  • action causing injury, loss or damage
  • intimidation or harassment
  • discrimination, disadvantage or adverse treatment in relation to a person’s employment, career, profession, trade or business, including the taking of disciplinary action

A person takes detrimental action against another person in reprisal for a public interest disclosure if the person:

  • takes or threatens to take detrimental action against the other person because or they believe that:
    • the other person or anyone else has made or intends to make the disclosure, or
    • the other person or anyone else has cooperated or intends to cooperate with the investigation of the disclosure.
  • incites or permits someone else to take or threaten to take detrimental action against the other person because or they believe that:
    • the other person or anyone else has made or intends to make the disclosure, or
    • the other person or anyone else has cooperated or intends to cooperate with the investigation of the disclosure

NOTE: Not all action will be a breach of the PID Act. A manager may take management action that is ‘detrimental action’ in relation to an employee who has made a public interest disclosure only if the fact that the person has made the disclosure is not a reason for the manager taking the action. This includes action in respect of performance development (including training), conditions of employment or discipline as well as action to ensure the safety of the workplace.

5.3 Reasonable belief

You do not need to have actual proof of improper conduct or detrimental action to make a public interest disclosure. A reasonable belief that there has been improper conduct or detrimental action is sufficient. The belief must be probable and more than just a reasonable suspicion.

Simply stating that improper conduct or detrimental action is occurring, without providing supporting information would not be a sufficient basis for having a reasonable belief. If you cannot establish that your belief is reasonable, your disclosure may not constitute a public interest disclosure.

6. Protections and Confidentiality

6.1 Protections

These protections apply from the time that the disclosure has been received by Family Safety Victoria. The protections still apply even if Family Safety Victoria determines that the disclosure will not be notified to IBAC. They also apply whether or not IBAC determines that the disclosure is a ‘public interest complaint’ (see Part 8 below).

A person who makes a disclosure (a ‘discloser’):

  • cannot be subject to any civil or criminal liability or administrative action (including disciplinary action) for making the disclosure
  • is not committing an offence against the Constitution Act 1975 or any other Act that imposes obligations of confidentiality or any other restriction on the disclosure of information
  • is not breaching any other obligation (made by oath, rule of law or practice) requiring them to maintain confidentiality or otherwise restrict confidentiality
  • has a defence (defence of absolute privilege) against any defamation proceedings in relation to information included in a public interest disclosure

Limitations on protections

The protections do not apply if a discloser:

  • provides information intending that it be acted on as a public interest disclosure, or provides further information that relates to a public interest disclosure, knowing that the information is false or misleading
  • claims that a matter is the subject of a public interest disclosure knowing the claim to be false
  • falsely claims that a matter is the subject of a disclosure that IBAC has determined to be a public interest disclosure.

The PID Act specifically provides that a person remains liable for their own conduct even though that person has made a disclosure of that conduct under the PID Act. Making a disclosure does not provide you with protections or immunity for your own wrongdoing.

6.4 Confidentiality obligations

Family Safety Victoria is precluded from revealing the content of a disclosure or the identity of a discloser except in certain circumstances, such as:

  • to exercise functions under the PID Act
  • to obtain legal advice or representation
  • after IBAC has determined that the disclosure is not a public interest complaint.

As a discloser, you must not disclose the content, or information about the content, of a disclosure that has been notified to IBAC by Family Safety Victoria or information which is likely to lead to the identification of the person who made that disclosure unless permitted to by the PID Act.

If you repeat your disclosure to someone other than as provided by these procedures or permitted by the PID Act, you may lose the protections provided for in the PID Act. For example, if a disclosure is repeated to the media and the media reports on it, you may not be protected from defamation action and you may be breaching your confidentiality obligations. If you are considering disclosing information about your disclosure, you may wish to obtain legal advice first.

7 How Family Safety Victoria will handle your disclosure

7.1 Support for disclosers and witnesses

Family Safety Victoria will provide reasonable welfare support to a discloser or a witness in an investigation as the circumstances require. Family Safety Victoria will consider if it is appropriate to appoint a support person (also known as a welfare manager), for a person who has made a disclosure or is cooperating, or intending to cooperate, with the investigation of a disclosure. 

A support person will be responsible for:

  • examining the discloser and/or witness' immediate welfare and protection needs and, where that person is an employee, fostering a supportive work environment
  • providing practical advice and support
  • advising the discloser and/or witness of the protections available under the PID Act
  • guiding the discloser and/or witness in relation to making a disclosure of detrimental action in reprisal for making the disclosure to the Public Interest Disclosure Coordinator
  • ensuring that the discloser and/or witness' expectations of the process and outcomes are realistic
  • advising the discloser and/or witness of the confidentiality obligations under the PID Act
  • operating discreetly to protect the discloser and/or witness from being identified as being involved with a public interest disclosure

In determining whether to appoint a support person in any particular case, Family Safety Victoria will consider:

  • whether the disclosure has proceeded, or is likely to proceed, to an investigation
  • whether there are any real risks of detrimental action against the persons involved, taking into account their particular circumstances
  • whether Family Safety Victoria can provide effective support to the persons involved, including keeping them informed of the progress of the disclosure
  • whether it is within Family Safety Victoria's power to protect the person/s involved from suffering repercussions

A support person may be a staff member from Family Safety Victoria or an external contractor. Family Safety Victoria will also consider referring an employee to its employee assistance program.

7.2 Protection from detrimental action

Family Safety Victoria will take precautions to prevent its employees and agents from taking detrimental action in reprisal for a protected disclosure. This includes identifying, assessing, controlling and monitoring risks of reprisals faced by disclosers and witnesses. 

The precautions taken by Family Safety Victoria will depend on individual circumstances and the disclosers and witnesses will, where possible, be consulted about any action that is taken.

If a person reports an incident of harassment, discrimination or adverse treatment that may amount to detrimental action, the person receiving the report (irrespective of their role) will record details of the incident and advise the person of the protections they will receive under the PID Act.

A disclosure of detrimental action can itself be a public interest disclosure and will be assessed by Family Safety Victoria as a new disclosure in accordance with these procedures.

If you are an employee who has made a public interest disclosure and you believe on reasonable grounds that detrimental action will be, is being, or has been taken against you, you may request a transfer of employment to another government agency on terms and conditions that are no less favourable overall to you. All requests of this nature will be considered, but a number of conditions would need to be satisfied before a request would be granted, including:

  • the CEO of Family Safety Victoria must be satisfied there are reasonable grounds to suspect detrimental action will be, is being, or has been taken against you
  • the CEO must consider that the transfer will avoid, reduce or eliminate the risk of detrimental action
  • the head of the ‘receiving’ government agency consents to the transfer.

If you have sustained injury, loss or damage as a result of detrimental action taken against you in reprisal for making a disclosure, the PID Act sets out remedies that are available to you. You may wish to obtain legal advice about this.

7.3 Assessment of disclosure

If you make a disclosure to a person within Family Safety Victoria other than the Public Interest Disclosure Coordinator (i.e. to your manager or to the CEO), the disclosure will be referred to the Public Interest Disclosure Coordinator for assessment. The Public Interest Disclosure Coordinator will acknowledge receipt of your disclosure verbally or in writing depending on the contact details provided. This acknowledgement will outline the key steps involved in handling your disclosure and the anticipated timeframes.

Upon receipt of your disclosure the Public Interest Disclosure Coordinator will assess whether the disclosure meets the requirements for notification to IBAC. This involves considering whether the disclosure includes information that shows or tends to show that that a public body or public officer has engaged in, is engaging in, or is proposing to engage in improper conduct or detrimental action. This may necessitate the Public Interest Disclosure Coordinator contacting you for further information.

In some circumstances, it may be necessary for the Public Interest Disclosure Coordinator to report on information in your disclosure to Victoria Police for immediate action or investigation. It may also be necessary for Family Safety Victoria to take action to prevent certain future conduct (including taking action against the person you have made a disclosure about). This action may take place before the Public Interest Disclosure Coordinator determines whether to notify your disclosure to IBAC.

The Public Interest Disclosure Coordinator must advise you within 28 days of receiving your disclosure that they have either notified IBAC of your disclosure or that they do not consider the disclosure to be a public interest disclosure and IBAC will not be notified.

7.4 Notification to IBAC

If the Public Interest Disclosure Coordinator determines that your disclosure may be a public interest disclosure, they must notify IBAC in writing within 28 days of the disclosure being made that they are providing the disclosure to IBAC for assessment.

Once notified to IBAC, the disclosure becomes known as an ‘assessable disclosure’. The PID Act prohibits disclosure of information received in relation to an assessable disclosure except in certain circumstances. These circumstances, as relevant to Family Safety Victoria, include disclosure of information:

  • in accordance with a direction or authorisation given by the entity that is investigating the disclosure (the investigating entity)
  • to the extent necessary for the purpose of taking lawful action in relation to the conduct that is the subject of the disclosure including disciplinary process or action
  • the IBAC has determined that the disclosure is not a public interest disclosure
  • where necessary for the purpose of the exercise of functions under the PID Act
  • by an investigating body where necessary for the purpose of the exercise of functions under the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission Act 2011 
  • for the purpose of a proceeding for an offence under a relevant Act or provision
  • for the purpose of disciplinary process or action in respect of conduct that would constitute an offence
  • for the purpose of obtaining legal advice or representation
  • to an interpreter, parent, guardian or independent person for the purpose of understanding the confidentiality obligations under the PID Act
  • an investigating body has published a report to Parliament or otherwise made public the content of the disclosure consistent with the confidentiality requirements of the PID Act

The PID Act also prohibits disclosing information that is likely to lead to your identification unless permitted to do so in accordance with the PID Act.

IBAC or the relevant investigating entity may disclose your identity and the content of your disclosure if it is necessary for the purposes of their investigative action. In that case, the public body or public officer to whom the information has been disclosed is bound by the same confidentiality requirements.

8 Next steps

Once a notification is made to IBAC, IBAC must assess whether, in its view, the assessable disclosure is a public interest disclosure.

If IBAC determines that the disclosure is a public interest disclosure, the disclosure becomes a ‘public interest complaint’.

In making this assessment, IBAC may seek additional information from Family Safety Victoria or from you, as the discloser.

If the disclosure is determined to be a public interest complaint, it must either refer, investigate or dismiss the matter. IBAC will advise you of the outcome of the assessment and whether it will refer the matter to an investigating entity, investigate the matter itself or dismiss the matter.

9 Review of the procedures

These procedures will be regularly reviewed to ensure they are current and provide the appropriate guidance and response to the complex and changing nature of the different Family Safety Victoria operational environments.

Appendix A - Receiving Entities

Disclosure relates to Disclosure must be made to

The Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) or an IBAC Officer

Victorian Inspectorate
The Victorian Inspectorate or a Victorian Inspectorate Officer Integrity and Oversight Committee, the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly or the President of the Legislative Council

A Public Interest Monitor

Victorian Inspectorate

A judicial officer

IBAC or the Judicial Commission

A member of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) who is not a judicial officer

IBAC or the Judicial Commission

A member of Victoria Police (other than the Chief Commissioner of Police)

IBAC or Victoria Police

The Chief Commissioner of Police

IBAC

The Director of Public Prosecutions

IBAC

The Chief Crown Prosecutor

IBAC

The Solicitor-General

IBAC

The Governor

IBAC

The Lieutenant-Governor

IBAC

The Director, Police Integrity

IBAC

The Electoral Commissioner

IBAC

A commissioner under the Inquires Act 2004

IBAC

A judicial employee

IBAC

A Ministerial officer

IBAC

A Parliamentary adviser

IBAC

An electorate officer

IBAC

A Parliamentary officer

IBAC

A Councillor under the Local Government Act 1989

IBAC or the Ombudsman

The Information Commissioner

IBAC or the Ombudsman
The Health Complaints Commissioner

IBAC or the Ombudsman

A Chief Examiner

IBAC or the Victorian Inspectorate

An Examiner under the Major Crime (Investigative Powers) Act 2004

IBAC or the Victorian Inspectorate

An Ombudsman officer

IBAC or the Victorian Inspectorate

A VAGO officer under the Audit Act 1994

IBAC or the Victorian Inspectorate

A Judicial Commission officer (other than a judicial member of the Board of the Judicial Commission)

IBAC or the Victorian Inspectorate

A member of Parliament (Legislative Assembly)

Speaker of the Legislative Assembly

A member of Parliament (Legislative Council)

President of the Legislative Council

A Minister of the Crown (who is not a member of Parliament

IBAC

Procedure last updated December 2019

Reviewed 04 December 2020

Family violence reform

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