Councils have now had their Protected Disclosure Procedures (Procedures) in place for 18 months, as required by the Protected Disclosure Act 2012 (Act).
Consistent with recent comments made by the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC), it may now be time for councils to review their Procedures to ensure compliance with the Act, as well as their general effectiveness.
Findings of the IBAC Review
IBAC recently conducted a review into public sector bodies’ (including councils’) compliance with the requirements of the Act as they relate to the adoption and availability of Procedures. Upon completion of the review, IBAC found that:
- while most public sector bodies surveyed had Procedures in place, some did not. Of those bodies who did not, this included four local councils who will be required to establish procedures by 31 March 2015
- of the 114 public sector bodies that took part in the review, 88 met the requirements of s 60 of the Act, however, 26 did not
- 34% of public sector bodies that took part in the review advised that they provided informal on-the-job training about protected disclosures for managers and supervisors, 30% advised that they provided formal training in-house training and 25% advised that no training had been conducted
- the majority of public sector bodies that took part in the review (80 in total) advised that they had not yet measured the effectiveness of their communication methods
- there were difficulties in explaining the complex requirements of the Act for making and assessing a protected disclosure in plain terms
- there was considerable confusion as to whom the Procedures were directed – potential disclosers or protected disclosure coordinators and welfare officers.
Room for Improvement
The IBAC review noted that there were common errors and omissions throughout public sector bodies with respect to their compliance with the Act, including that:
- procedures often failed to provide critical information about the confidentiality obligations under the Act – IBAC has suggested that public sector bodies may wish to supply further material to complement their Procedures
- incorrect information was often provided relating to confidentiality, detrimental action and disclosure of confidential information
- all public sector bodies would benefit from reviewing their Procedures in light of the issues identified by the IBAC review, particularly by considering:
- whether their Procedures can be simplified and made more ‘user-friendly’
- how their Procedures are made readily available, particularly to members of the public.
We agree that it is now timely for councils to review their Procedures to ensure not only compliance with the Act but also continuing workability in the context of public disclosures. In particular, councils should consider whether their Procedures are easily understood, and accessible to their staff and members of the public.