5.7.1. General principles
Improper Conduct in this context refers to the wrongdoings covered under the Public Interest Disclosures Act 2012 (Vic) (the PID Act) and the whistleblowing provisions of other applicable laws including the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) and the Taxation Administration Act 1953 (Cth). Improper Conduct includes:
- fraud and corruption
- criminal offences
- serious professional misconduct
- dishonest performance of public functions
- intentional or reckless breaches of public trust
- intentional or reckless misuse of information
- substantial mismanagement of public resources
- substantial risk to the health and safety of a person
- substantial risk to the environment.
University subsidiary companies (including NICA, SSAA [Swinburne Student Life] and Swinburne Ventures Limited) are covered by two whistleblowing regimes - the Corporations Act and the PID Act.
To avoid confusion, reduce complexity and support effective processes, the University will use consistent language and procedures to implement this policy and deal with disclosures, whether they relate to the University or University subsidiary companies.
The University’s stance on Improper Conduct is guided by the principles of:
- upholding the highest standards of legal, ethical and moral behaviour
- ensuring that the organisational culture and embedded risk controls effectively deter Improper Conduct
- building willingness to report wrongdoing
- ensuring compliance with “public interest disclosure” or “whistleblower” legislation (including the PID Act and the Corporations Act)
- protections for individuals who disclose Improper Conduct
- natural justice.
There are established processes under the University’s Improper Conduct and Whistleblowing Guidelines, and Victorian legislation, for reporting and investigating allegations of improper conduct such as corruption and fraud. Disclosures can also be made about “detrimental action” taken against disclosers. Similarly, the whistleblowing provisions of the Corporations Act, protect the disclosure of “disclosable matters”, which include contraventions of key Commonwealth legislation such as the Corporations Act, criminal offences, conduct that endangers the public and dishonest conduct such as fraud and corruption.
A “disclosure”, whether made under the Victorian Public Interest Disclosure Act or the Corporations Act, is a statutorily protected disclosure or allegation of Improper Conduct. A person (for example a “whistleblower”) may wish to make a disclosure to receive statutory protection from detriment, to ensure anonymity and to have the matter investigated by an external agency.
The University cannot receive and handle public interest disclosures under the Victorian PID Act. Rather, public interest disclosures should be made to the Victorian Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC), which has published guidelines to assist disclosers.
A person wishing to report suspected Improper Conduct who does not wish to report to IBAC and use the Victorian public interest disclosure regime can disclose the matter to the University rather than to IBAC.
In the case of disclosable matters concerning University subsidiary companies under the Corporations Act, disclosures can be received by “eligible recipients”, who include company officers, senior managers and auditors.
To support disclosure, the University will nominate a Disclosure Officer as the central contact point for advice, receiving and handling disclosures and ensuring integrity. In addition, the University may also appoint an independent disclosure service provider or “hotline” that is authorised to receive disclosures directly.
Whilst a discloser may elect to report a matter through a number of contact points, all disclosures should be referred or passed on to the University’s Disclosure Officer.
Maintaining confidentiality as required in relation to public interest disclosure matters is crucial, among other things, to ensure detrimental action is not taken against a discloser. It is a criminal offence to disclose information connected with a public interest disclosure, including the identity of the discloser.
Strict integrity processes apply in all cases to the reporting and investigation of alleged Improper Conduct under the University’s Improper Conduct and Whistleblowing Guidelines.
5.7.3. Support to disclosers
The University does not tolerate the taking of detrimental action against those who come forward to disclose matters.
The University recognises the value of transparency and accountability in its administrative and management practices, and supports the making of disclosures that reveal Improper Conduct.
The University will take reasonable steps to protect people who make such disclosures, in good faith, from any detrimental action for reporting the conduct.
A welfare manager or whistleblower protection officer will be appointed by the University where required for disclosers.
5.7.4. Legal protections for disclosers
Disclosers who qualify under legislation as a whistleblower enjoy legal protections including confidentiality, protection from detriment and certain protection from liability.
A discloser may seek independent legal advice or contact an external agency (such as IBAC or ASIC) if they believe they have suffered detriment.
5.7.5. Personal grievances and false reporting
Personal grievances (for example interpersonal conflict or personal work-related complaints) are not disclosable matters covered by this policy and the University’s Improper Conduct and Whistleblowing Guidelines.
Deliberate reporting of matters not covered by these policies and guidelines or which are false or mischievous is discouraged.
5.7.6. Matters already disclosed to the University
If a matter has already been disclosed to the University and handled under a separate process (such as a staff grievance or student complaint or an earlier disclosure), then unless further evidence is identified or disclosed that indicates Improper Conduct and has not already been taken into account in that separate process, the matter will not subsequently be dealt with under this policy or the University’s Improper Conduct and Whistleblowing Guidelines.