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Activity 4: Public Interest Disclosures

Facilitating the investigation of public interest disclosures and undertaking other responsibilities under the PID Act

Introduction

The Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013 (PID Act) is intended to promote integrity and accountability within the Commonwealth public sector, including by encouraging public interest disclosures by public officials; providing appropriate support to disclosers to ensure that they are not subject to adverse consequences relating to their disclosures; and ensuring that disclosures by public officials are properly investigated and dealt with.

Key IGIS responsibilities under the PID scheme include:

  • receiving, and where appropriate, investigating, disclosures about suspected wrongdoing within the intelligence agencies
  • assisting current or former public officials who work for, or who previously worked for, the intelligence agencies in relation to the operation of the PID Act
  • assisting the intelligence agencies in meeting their responsibilities under the PID Act, including through education and awareness activities
  • overseeing the operation of the PID scheme in the intelligence agencies.

Quantitative performance measures

The following metrics, identified in the OIGIS Corporate Plan 2015–19, were used to support the quantitative assessment of our performance in relation to this activity:

  • number of public interest disclosure matters handled
  • target percentage (90%) of complaints acknowledged within five business days.

These metrics have been reported on in the preceding section of this annual report (Activity 3), alongside the metrics for other types of complaints.

In summary, there were four Public Interest Disclosure matters handled during the reporting period, each of which was acknowledged within five business days.

Discussion

In the reporting period four disclosures were made to the IGIS under the PID scheme.

One of these disclosures was made by an anonymous complainant who alleged that members of a small work unit in an Australian Intelligence Community (AIC) agency were secretly monitoring the internal communications of their workplace colleagues. They were said to be using information accessed as a source of gossip and potential influence.

Although the complaint was anonymous, it contained sufficient inside knowledge of the agency in question to suggest that it came from a current public official. The matter was construed as reaching the PID threshold and formally allocated to the Inspector-General for investigation.

The anonymous nature of the complaint and its lack of specificity (for example, with regard to the names of purported offenders and date ranges) made it difficult to investigate. Despite this, a number of forensic technical checks were undertaken to identify any inappropriate conduct or unusual patterns. None were found.

The second matter considered to be a disclosure was a complaint made by a serving AIC officer who had been suspended on full pay pending the formal withdrawal of the officer's security clearance and the termination of the officer's employment.

The discloser claimed that the 'review for cause' investigation which had led to the recommendation to withdraw the security clearance had been so flawed as to amount to a denial of procedural fairness, and that, for this reason, the decision should be overturned.

Public Interest Disclosure

One PID (the third received by this office) revolved around claims by a former AIC agency employee that he should not have been permitted to attend specialist training in sensitive techniques relevant to his then employment, if he was already the subject of a 'review for cause' security investigation into his continued suitability to hold a security clearance. It was construed that the discloser had raised serious concerns of maladministration, and the matter was allocated to the IGIS for investigation.

Following investigation, the IGIS was satisfied that the complainant was not actually the subject of a formal 'review for cause' process prior to the commencement of the relevant training. Rather, the process was commenced one week after the course was concluded.

The IGIS found that while security related concerns had been raised about the complainant in the preceding weeks, the agency had sought to find a reasonable balance between maintaining appropriate and necessary security standards and treating the complainant in a fair and reasonable manner.

After reviewing relevant material, the IGIS identified no procedural flaws and decided that the decision of the agency head to withdraw the discloser's security clearance was not unreasonable in the circumstances.

The final internal disclosure made directly to the Inspector-General came from a former AIC agency officer who raised concerns about the manner in which a code of conduct investigation was carried out; alleged workplace bullying and harassment; and whether the agency concerned had inappropriately communicated personal information about the discloser to AIC and other agencies with a view to exclusion from future employment.

This matter was regarded as a PID on the basis that the disclosure pointed to potential maladministration and actions which, if proven, could give rise to disciplinary action. Although the matter was still open at the end of the reporting period, it was finalised very shortly afterwards. The IGIS found no evidence to support the claims made by the discloser.

The office was also very heavily involved in providing comments and input to the statutory review of the PID Act, which was conducted by Mr Philip Moss AM in the second half of the reporting period. This is discussed in more detail under Activity 5 in this report.