The National Anti-Corruption Commission commenced operations on 1 July 2023.
Please visit the NACC website for more information.
This factsheet provides information on:
- who can choose to make a referral to the NACC
- what happens when a referral is made to the NACC
- the protections available for those who make a referral.
Some people must refer certain matters to the NACC.
For information about mandatory referral obligations for heads of Commonwealth agencies other than intelligence agencies, see Mandatory referrals: Commonwealth agencies. For information about mandatory referral obligations for heads of intelligence agencies, see Mandatory referrals: Intelligence agencies.
For information about mandatory referral obligations for public officials with responsibilities under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013, see Mandatory referrals: PID officers.
What is a voluntary referral and who can make one?
A voluntary referral is where a person chooses to contact the NACC to refer a corruption issue or provide information about a corruption issue.
Any person (including members of the public and public officials) can voluntarily refer a corruption issue, or provide information about a corruption issue, to the NACC.
The NACC Commissioner will be able to investigate serious or systemic corrupt conduct under the National Anti-Corruption Commission Act 2022 (the NACC Act).
Can the NACC receive anonymous referrals?
A person can provide information about a corruption issue to the NACC anonymously.
However, making an anonymous referral means the NACC Commissioner cannot:
- seek more information from a person about their referral
- notify a person of the outcome of any investigation related to their referral
- ensure measures are in place to protect the person or others involved in their referral
What is a corruption issue?
A corruption issue is information, or an allegation, that raises a question of whether a person:
- has engaged in corrupt conduct in the past,
- is currently engaging in corrupt conduct, or
- will engage in corrupt conduct in the future.
See National Anti-Corruption Commission Act 2022, section 9
What is corrupt conduct?
While corrupt conduct can take many forms, the NACC Act defines it to mean situations where a public official:
- does something that breaches the public trust,
- abuses their office as a public official, or
- misuses information they have access to in their capacity as a public official.
It also applies to any person (whether or not they are a public official) who does something, or tries to do something, that causes or might cause a public official to carry out their duties in a dishonest or biased way.
See National Anti-Corruption Commission Act 2022, section 8
Does a person need to be sure that the conduct is serious or systemic?
The NACC Commissioner can only decide to investigate a corruption issue if they consider that the issue could involve corrupt conduct that is ‘serious’ or ‘systemic’. A person can make a voluntary referral without being certain that the suspected corrupt conduct is serious or systemic.
To find out more about 'serious' or 'systemic' corrupt conduct, see What is corrupt conduct?
What happens after a referral is made?
The NACC does not have to consider or respond to every referral it receives. The NACC Commissioner can also decide not to take any action in relation to a referral.
If a referral raises a corruption issue, the NACC Commissioner may deal with it in one or more of the following ways:
- conduct a preliminary investigation to find out more information to help them decide how to deal with the issue
- if the issue could involve serious or systemic corrupt conduct – investigate the issue alone or with the relevant Commonwealth agency or a state or territory government entity
- refer the issue to the Commonwealth agency that the issue relates to for them to investigate
- refer the issue to another Commonwealth agency or state or territory government entity for consideration
- take no action.
If there is not enough information to decide whether the referral could involve serious or systemic corrupt conduct, the NACC Commissioner may ask the person who referred the issue to provide more information.
What protections exist for people who make a referral?
Protection from liability
The NACC Act provides a range of protections to any person who provides information or evidence about a corruption issue to the NACC. These include protection from:
- civil, criminal and administrative liability, including disciplinary action for the disclosure
- enforcement of contractual or other remedies or rights on the basis of the disclosure.
This means, for example, that a person who refers a corruption issue would have immunity from defamation proceedings in respect of the disclosure. Similarly, a contract to which the person is a party could not be terminated for breach of contract on the basis of the disclosure.
The NACC Act also makes it a criminal offence for anyone to take, or threaten to take, reprisal action against another person.
These protections from liability or reprisal are generally available to any person who refers or provides other information about a corruption issue to the NACC. This applies even where their disclosure involves breaching another law, though this is subject to some exceptions (see below).
Protection from reprisal action
A 'reprisal' is when a person causes another person detriment because they believe or suspect that the other person has, may or could disclose a corruption issue to the NACC.
- dismissal from employment
- injury in employment
- detrimental changes to an employment position
- discrimination between a person and other employees of the employer.
The maximum penalty for taking a reprisal, or threatening to take a reprisal, against a person is imprisonment for 2 years.
Reasonable administrative action by an organisation to protect a person from detriment is not a reprisal. For example, if a person makes a disclosure about practices in their immediate work area, it may be appropriate to help them transfer to another area so they do not experience any detriment.
See National Anti-Corruption Commission Act 2022, Part 4
Protections for public officials
The protections from liability and reprisal action in the NACC Act are similar to those available to public officials who make a public interest disclosure under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013 (PID Act).
If a person is a current or former public official (within the meaning of section 69 of the PID Act), they may be able to access protections under both the PID Act and the NACC Act. This applies if their disclosure to the NACC is also disclosable conduct under section 29 of the PID Act.
A current or former public official will be able to access protections under the PID Act if they have made an internal disclosure within their agency that raises a corruption issue under the NACC Act and this disclosure triggers a PID officer’s mandatory obligation to refer the disclosure to the NACC (or in the case of intelligence agencies, the NACC or the IGIS).
For more information, see Mandatory referrals: PID officers.
Compensation and other redress for detriment caused by reprisal action are available under the PID Act in relation to valid public interest disclosures made by current or former public officials.
Exceptions to protections
There are circumstances where a person will not receive protections if their disclosure to the NACC breaches another law.
A person will not receive protection from liability if they disclose their own conduct to the NACC in the hope of avoiding liability for that conduct. For example, a public servant who misuses an official power to advance a personal interest and then refers their own conduct to the NACC to avoid criminal liability.
A person who knowingly makes a false or misleading disclosure to the NACC can also still be liable for false or misleading statements. The NACC Act does not provide a person with protection from:
- criminal liability
- civil liability (such as defamation or breach of employment contract)
- administrative liability (such as a public official being suspended or having their security clearance revoked).
What if sharing information would breach a secrecy obligation?
If one of the following secrecy obligations (known as 'exempt secrecy provisions') applies to information about a corruption issue, a person is not required to provide that information in a referral to the NACC or the IGIS:
- Part 11 of the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act 2006
- Section 34 of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Act 1986
- Secrecy provisions under the My Health Records Act 2012
- Sections 45 and 45B of the Surveillance Devices Act 2004
- Sections 63 and 133 of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979
- a secrecy provision that is a provision of a taxation law
- a secrecy provision in another law that says it still applies despite the NACC Act.
A person may still provide information covered by an exempt secrecy provision on a voluntary basis, in which case they would be entitled to protections under the NACC Act in relation to that disclosure, including immunity from civil, criminal, and administrative liability.
See National Anti-Corruption Commission Act 2022, Section 36
For more information and resources, visit NACC downloadable resources.