The Protected Disclosure Act 2012 (Act), forming part of the new statutory regime for Victoria’s integrity reforms, is now in force. The Act, which commenced operation on 10 February 2013, replaces the former Whistleblowers Protection Act 2001 and amends the Ombudsman Act 1973.
Whistleblower protection is just one part of the new integrity system for Victoria, which includes the establishment of the Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC), the Victorian Inspectorate, and the Accountability and Oversight Parliamentary Committee.
Similarly to the former scheme, the Act protects persons who give information about improper conduct by public bodies and public officers. The Act affects all councils. Under the Act, councils may receive disclosures regarding the improper conduct of council or its staff. Disclosures regarding councillors must be made directly to IBAC.
The Act requires each council, as a body to whom disclosures can be made, to develop written procedures for handling protected disclosures it receives. It is each council’s responsibility to ensure that its procedures comply with the Act, the regulations under the Act and any IBAC guidelines issued under the Act.
Councils have until 10 August 2013, being 6 months after the commencement of the Act, to have prepared a manual which outlines its procedures for facilitating the making of disclosures and the handling of disclosures in accordance with the Act and IBAC Interim Guidelines (Guidelines). To comply with the Guidelines, this manual must be made available for public inspection at council offices and also be published on each council’s website.
The Guidelines suggest that a member of staff be designated as the coordinator of protected disclosure matters. While it is good practice to have a coordinator in place, councils are required to ensure that all staff are familiar with its procedures and the obligations under the Act and Guidelines.
While most councils will have procedures for handling disclosures under the previous Whistleblowers Protection Act 2001, councils now need to review and update these procedures to ensure they comply with the new statutory regime. In addition to nominating a member of staff to handle protected disclosures, councils may wish to update their websites to provide information regarding the new regime and who to contact if someone wishes to make a disclosure about council or its officers.
Changes to the statutory regime, including the Act and other Acts relating to the integrity reforms, will be reflected in the next update to Maddocks’ Delegations and Authorisations Service, which will be released in May 2013.