Posted on March 11, 2011 by Frances Tse

Increased Protection For Whistleblowers

A broad range of amendments to the newly named Public Interest Disclosures Act 1994 (Act) (previously the Protected Disclosures Act 1994) have been made which will broaden the scope of protection given to people wishing to make disclosures about conduct in the public sector (commonly referred to as whistleblowers). The amendments also require public authorities to prepare policies regarding protected disclosures and report on their obligations under the Act.

Increased protection

Some of the key changes include:

  • protecting disclosures which a person honestly believes show that corrupt conduct or maladministration, for example, has occurred. Previously the protection was only afforded if the information showed or tended to show corrupt conduct, maladministration, serious and substantial waste of public money or government information contravention;
  • inserting a new definition of government information contravention, which is conduct which constitutes a failure to properly exercise functions under the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009;
  • broadening the public authorities to whom disclosures can be made, and including provisions to extend protection to disclosures made to the wrong authority; and
  • increasing penalties and sanctions for persons who take detrimental action against whilstleblowers.

Not all of the above amendments have taken effect at this stage, but will take effect in the next few months.

Policies and reporting

On 1 July 2011 the Act will also be amended to require public authorities to have a policy on protected disclosures which includes procedures for receiving, assessing and dealing with protected disclosures, and maintaining confidentiality in relation to protected disclosures. Policies must be in place by 1 October 2011.

Also, as of 1 January 2012, every public authority will be required to provide annual reports to the Minister responsible for that authority, on the authority’s obligations under the Act.

Authorities should therefore ensure that they are familiar with the amendments to the Act, have policies prepared before 1 October 2011, and will be in a position next year, to meet their reporting obligations.