This concerns protecting people who contribute to the public good by disclosing serious wrongdoing to the authorities.
South Australian legislation
It is unlawful to penalize a person for disclosing public interest information to an appropriate authority. The Whistleblowers Protection Act 1993 (SA) defines what is public interest information. This includes any information that shows that a person, company or government agency has:
- broken the law
- mismanaged public resources
- misused public money
- done something that causes a substantial risk to public health or safety or
- done something that poses a substantial risk to the environment.
It also covers information showing that a public officer has been guilty of maladministration in performing his or her official functions.
A person who makes a disclosure about such a thing to the appropriate authority (such as the police, the Ombudsman or the Auditor-General) is a ‘whistleblower’. The whistleblower must have a reasonable belief that the information is true or, if they cannot be sure about that, must have a reasonable basis for thinking it may be true and is important enough to disclose. They must take it to a proper authority (for example, the protection will not necessarily cover a disclosure to the media or to one’s friends and family).
The Act gives whistleblowers immunity from civil or criminal liability for their actions. If they are victimized for making a disclosure, it also allows them to make a complaint to the Equal Opportunity Commission.
The Ombudsman SA can take confidential complaints about possible improper or illegal actions under the Whistleblowers Protection Act 1993 (SA) , see the Ombudsman's website for more information.
The Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) also protects officers and employees of a company who disclose information of illegal practices, fraud or misappropriation of funds to company auditors. It is an offence under the Act for a person to be penalized (victimised) for such disclosures.
The Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013 (Cth) protects public officials (wider then public servants, includes defence force and others) who make prescribed disclosures. The disclosure ust be made to an authorised officer or to the person's supervisor. The person disclosing the information is protected from civil and criminal liability as well as disciplinary action.
The content of the Law Handbook is made available as a public service for information purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for legal advice. See Disclaimer for details. For free and confidential legal advice in South Australia call 1300 366 424.