Breaking the silence: How new laws empower NSW public sector whistleblowers

Whistleblowers who work in all public sector agencies across New South Wales will now receive greater protection, following extensive revisions to the Public Interest Disclosures Act (PID Act) which came into force on 1st October 2023.

This amended whistleblower legislation is a commendable step forward in the state’s commitment to safeguarding the rights of whistleblowers and promoting a culture of transparency and accountability. This article delves into the reasons behind the revised act and the benefits it brings to whistleblowers, agencies, and the wider community.

The need for change

The latest revisions to the NSW PID Act were prompted by the need to address the deficiencies in the previous legislation (Public Interest Disclosures Act 1994) which fell short in several key areas, notably whistleblower protection, maintenance of confidentiality, and the mechanisms for reporting wrongdoing.

Key benefits of the revised Public Interest Disclosures Act 2022

1. Enhanced protection for whistleblowers

The revised PID Act strengthens the protection of whistleblowers by explicitly outlining the rights and safeguards they can expect. Whistleblowers, witnesses and investigators are now assured of confidentiality, protection from reprisals, and immunity from civil and criminal liability for making disclosures. These provisions are crucial for encouraging more individuals to come forward with information on illegal activities, corruption or other misconduct.

2. Confidentiality

New measures aim to protect the identity of whistleblowers and keep all details confidential. Since the fear that others will find out about their whistleblowing can be a major factor that stops people coming forward, this is a key element in encouraging a positive ‘speak-up’ culture by enhanced requirements around policies and training.

3. Clear reporting mechanisms

The whistleblowing process is also now simpler and easier to navigate, and there are fewer potential trip-hazards for would-be whistleblowers. Permissible recipients of a public interest disclosure (PID) have been expanded to include a whistleblower’s manager, who must in turn report the PID to a disclosure officer. But PIDs are still protected even if the incorrect reporting path is used.

4. Legal protections and remedies

It’s now an offence to take detrimental action against a whistleblower or suspected whistleblower. If a detrimental action – such as a dismissal, demotion or victimisation – is taken, the whistleblower

can seek an injunction or compensation, as well as the immunity from liability already mentioned. This immunity may even be extended to their own past misconduct, at the Attorney General’s discretion.

5. Increased accountability

NSW public sector agencies must each now have a PID policy – a whistleblower policy – that details the steps to be taken when disclosures are made. They must also provide easily identifiable, trained disclosure officers. This means that there is a clearer duty on agencies to take appropriate steps to deal with the disclosures they receive.

Public trust and transparency

The changes to the Public Interest Disclosures Act represent a significant step forward in creating an environment that promotes public trust and a culture of transparency, accountability, and ethical behaviour. This whistleblower legislation addresses the shortcomings of the previous PID Act by providing enhanced protection, more comprehensive and meaningful reporting data about PIDs, a confidentiality guarantee and legal remedies for whistleblowers, while ensuring that public sector agencies have increased awareness and accountability and an explicit whistleblower policy and procedure.

For details or guidance about this legislation and how it impacts your organisation, please contact us.

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