The investigation process

The Commissioner’s process is in three stages.  Click to see each stage of the process:

Stage 1 - Assessment


The process starts when someone contacts the Commissioner for Public Interest Disclosures to report improper conduct.  This is known as making a disclosure.  A disclosure can be made directly to the Commissioner, or to the Chief Executive of a public body.  The Chief Executive is required to pass a disclosure on to the Commissioner for Public Interest Disclosures within 14 days.

You can click here to see a flowchart of the assessment procedure.

Can the Commissioner Investigate?

The Commissioner assesses whether the information provided in the disclosure can be investigated.  The Commissioner does not have the power to investigate a disclosure unless:

The Commissioner also cannot investigate a matter that is substatially an issue of policy, or that is substantially a personal or employment-related grievance.

Should the Commissioner Investigate?

The Commissioner assesses whether the information ought to be investigated.  The Commissioner can choose to reject a disclosure for any of the following reasons:

  • it is an abuse of process
  • the matter is too trivial
  • the allegation was made after excessive delay
  • the matter has already been investigated
  • the issue is currently before a court or tribunal
  • the disclosure contains misleading information

If one of these factors applies, the Commissioner decides whether (in all the circumstances) the matter still warrants investigation.  In making this decision, the Commissioner can consider the objects of the Public Interest Disclosure Act.  These include the need to properly investigate improper conduct, to ensure improper conduct is dealt with appropriately, and to protect persons from acts of reprisal.

Should the Matter be Referred?

The Commissioner has the power to formally refer a matter to another body to investigate.  If a matter is referred, control of the investigation is passed to that other body, however person who made the disclosure is still protected from liability and reprisals.  The Commissioner currently has powers to formally refer matters to the following Northern Territory bodies:

  • Ombudsman
  • Commissioner of Police
  • Auditor-General
  • Work Health Authority
  • Office of the Commissioner for Public Employment

Commissioner Must Investigate

If the disclosure is not rejected or referred, the Commissioner for Public Interest Disclosures must investigate the matter.

Stage 2 - Investigation

Before commencing the investigation, the Commissioner must notify the Responsible Authority that an investigation is being conduct.

The investigation is conducted in private, and the Commissioner is entitled to adopt a strategy of investigation that suits the particular case, subject to certain legal criteria.  During the investigation, you may be asked:

  • to answer questions;
  • to collect documents and provide information; and
  • to assist the Commissioner to access the premises of your organisation and locate people or information.

Failure to answer questions or assist can amount to an offence. To learn about your obligations during the investigation, we recommend you complete our interactive online training.

The persons who can request you answer questions, provide information, or access premises are the Commissioner for Public Interest Disclosures or any persons delegated with the Commissioner’s authority.  To find out whether a person is currently delegated with the Commissioner’s authority, you can contact the Commissioner.

The Commissioner is required to conduct the investigation in accordance with the principles of natural justice.  This means that if the Commissioner is considering any allegations about improper conduct on your behalf, the Commissioner will listen to you and give you a chance to put your side of the story prior to making a decision about whether the allegations are well founded.  It also means the Commissioner will approach the investigation fairly, with an open mind.

Stage 3 - Reporting

The Reporting Stage occurs in three parts:

Internal Report:

Once the Commissioner has completed an investigation, the Commissioner prepares an internal report about:

  • what, if any, improper conduct has occurred; and
  • what, if any, steps the public body should take to address issues arising from this improper conduct.

This report is given to the Responsible Authority who has responsibility for the public body in question.

Implementing the Recommendations:

The Commissioner may set a deadline for that Responsible Authority to report on the steps they have taken in accordance with the recommendations.  The deadline must be a reasonable one.

Public Report:

If the Commissioner is of the view that the Responsible Authority has taken insufficient steps to implement the recommendations, the Commissioner prepares a public report.  This public report may include information contained in the internal report, as well as comment and criticism on the Responsible Authority's failure to adequately respond to the internal report.

This report is given to the Minister responsible for the Public Interest Disclosures Act, who is required to table it in Parliament within 6 sitting days.

No public report is issued if the designated person takes sufficient steps to implement the recommendations and deal appropriately with the improper conduct.