Whistleblowers perform an important role. They are uniquely placed to expose serious problems within the management and operations of Victorian public bodies. The best source of information concerning inappropriate conduct within a public body is often people who work for or have dealings with the body. Examples of public bodies include: Department of Primary Industries, Department of Sustainability & Environment, East Gippsland Shire Council, Gippsland Ports and VicForests.
Anyone can make a protected disclosure. This includes individuals who are either internal or external to a public body. Disclosures about public bodies can and are made by a variety of people including independent contractors, ratepayers, students, recipients of services and hospital patients. You can make a disclosure anonymously.
The disclosure must be about conduct that constitutes one of the following:
- corrupt conduct
- a substantial mismanagement of public resources
- a substantial risk to public health or safety
- a substantial risk to the environment
In order to be a protected disclosure, and for the protections under the Act to be available, the conduct must also be serious enough that, if proven, it would constitute a criminal offence or reasonable grounds for dismissal.
The Whistleblowers Protection Act 2001 came into force on 1 January 2002.
The purposes of the Act are:
- to encourage and facilitate disclosures of improper conduct by public officers and public bodies
- to provide protection for individuals who make those disclosures and individuals who may suffer reprisals relating to those disclosures
- to provide for the matters disclosed to be properly investigated and dealt with
The Victorian legislation, subject to some specific exceptions, only applies to Victorian public bodies and public officers.
Public officers can include:
- Members of Parliament
- council employees
- public servants
The Act makes it a criminal offence punishable by a fine or up to two years imprisonment to take detrimental action against a person for making a protected disclosure.
The Act gives whistleblowers protections and rights such as a right to sue for damages, the power to apply to the Supreme Court for an injunction to stop detrimental action occurring and other protections.
To make a protected disclosure you can contact the Protected Disclosure Coordinator of the actual public body or the Victorian Ombudsman.