Section C | Legislative and policy based reporting
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- Public Interest Disclosure
- Freedom of information
- Internal accountability
- Community grants/assistance/sponsorship
- Territory records
- Human Rights Act 2004
- Commissioner for the Environment
- ACT Multicultural Strategy
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander reporting
- Ecologically sustainable development
- ACT Women's Plan
Public Interest Disclosure
Under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1994 (ACT PID Act), a person may make a public interest disclosure (PID) to any ACT Government agency including the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman can become involved directly or at the request of the agency concerned. PID matters are among the most complex cases the Ombudsman deals with in terms of their investigation and resolution.
The PID complaints investigated by the Ombudsman often intersect with workplace disputes and grievance processes. Such disputes can open up other issues relating to the wider operations of the agency involved.
In 2009–10 we received three complaints that were PIDs or characterised as PIDs by the complainant.
Due to the nature of the complaints, we referred two of them to the relevant agencies for investigation to give senior management an opportunity to deal with the issues.
In the third complaint, we transferred the matter to the ACT Commissioner for Public Sector Employment for investigation because they related to employment matters better handled by the Commissioner.
Freedom of information
Complaints about the actions of agencies
Section 53(3) of the Freedom of Information Act 1989 (ACT) requires the Ombudsman to report on complaints about the handling of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests by ACT Government agencies.
During the year the Ombudsman received five complaints involving five agencies about the processing of requests under the FOI Act. Of these, three were investigated, one was closed on the grounds that investigation was not considered warranted, and the fifth was open, without being investigated at the time of reporting.
One complaint related to access to a document being refused. During the course of our investigation, circumstances changed such that the agency was able to release the document to the complainant.
Another complaint raised the issue of FOI decision letters needing to explain how a decision was arrived at, rather than simply repeating the wording of the exemption section or the terms of the decision itself. We encourage agencies to base their decisions on probative evidence and public interest tests, and a rational explanation of the adverse consequences which could potentially occur if the requested documents were released without exemptions or deletions.
We closed five complaints during the year. Two of these were complaints which had been received during the previous year.
FOI requests to the Ombudsman
In 2009–10 the ACT Ombudsman received one FOI request under s 15 of the FOI Act. Partial access to the documents was granted in response to this request.
No applications for review of our decisions were made to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal/ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal. It is not feasible to calculate reliably the cost of dealing with the FOI requests, as it is dispersed throughout the office. Any attempt to do so would require significantly more resources than were expended on this request. During the period, no fees or charges were imposed.
The Commonwealth Ombudsman is also the ACT Ombudsman. Funding for the work undertaken in relation to ACT Government agencies and ACT Policing is provided through a services agreement with the ACT Government. The current agreement took effect from 31 March 2008. The Ombudsman's office remains independent of the ACT Government.
The Governor-General reappointed the Commonwealth Ombudsman, Prof. John McMillan, to a second five-year term in March 2008. Prof. McMillan moved on to the post of Australian Information Commission Designate in March 2010. Mr Ron Brent, Deputy Ombudsman, was also reappointed to a second five-year term in June 2008—assuming the post of Acting Ombudsman in March 2010. Dr Vivienne Thom was appointed as Deputy Ombudsman in March 2006 for a five-year term, leaving in April 2010 to take up the role of Acting Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security.
The remuneration for the Ombudsman and Deputy Ombudsmen is determined by the Remuneration Tribunal (Commonwealth).
The ACT Ombudsman's office did not provide any community grants, assistance or sponsorship during the reporting period.
The ACT Ombudsman's office has a records management program that was approved by the Director of Territory Records.
In accordance with the Territory Records Act 2002 (ACT), the office ensures that:
- all ACT Ombudsman records are stored appropriately and securely
- relevant position profiles and duty statements reflect the records management skills required by the Ombudsman's office
- training is available for records management and general staff in record-keeping skills and responsibilities
- a controlled language system for records management for the Ombudsman's office has been developed and is used by staff.
The office operates with an approved Records Disposal Schedule (Territory Records (Records Disposal Schedule – Ombudsman Complaint Records) Approval 2003 (No 2); Notifiable Instrument NI 2003-458).
Given the nature of our work, the office does not have records that may allow people to establish links with their Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander heritage.
Part 3 of the Territory Records Act provides for public access to ACT records that are more than 20-years-old.
Human Rights Act 2004
The ACT Ombudsman continued to work collaboratively with the ACT Human Rights Commission and ACT Corrective Services on issues concerning the Alexander Maconochie Centre.
The Ombudsman's office also plays an important role in human rights protection. The right to complain is both a right in itself, implicit in the civil and political rights listed in the Human Rights Act, and one of the best mechanisms to ensure that all other rights can be protected. It establishes a fundamental status for the individual in his or her dealings with government. The existence of public sector ombudsmen and other such bodies is crucial to minimising the inequality of power, resources and information that can prevent this right, and those available through it, from being exercised.
There was no litigation against the ACT Ombudsman in relation to the Human Rights Act.
Commissioner for the Environment
There were no requests, investigations or recommendations relating to the Commissioner for the Environment.
ACT Multicultural Strategy
The Ombudsman provides support to this strategy through efforts to ensure our office is easily accessible by the Australian community. Information sheets are available in 36 community languages setting out the role of the Ombudsman and how to make a complaint about a government agency.
These languages are: Albanian, Amharic, Arabic, Bosnian, Chinese (simplified and traditional), Croatian, Dari, Dinka, Dutch, Farsi/Persian, Filipino, French, German, Greek, Hindi, Indonesian, Italian, Khmer, Korean, Kurdish, Lao, Macedonian, Malay, Pashtu/Pashto, Polish, Russian, Serbian, Sinhalese, Somali, Spanish, Swahili, Tamil, Tigrinya, Turkish and Vietnamese. The information sheets are available at www.ombudsman.act.gov.au
The office uses interpreting services, particularly telephone interpreting services, to assist people dealing with the office who may have difficulty communicating in English.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander reporting
In January 2010 we commenced work to develop an Indigenous Communication and Engagement Strategy to support the office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman and the ACT Ombudsman in dealing more effectively with Indigenous people and communities in the Northern Territory, the Australian Capital Territory and across all states. The project incorporates research into the most effective communication messages and mechanisms and is intended to assist us to identify ways to be more accessible to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It also recognises the need for a culturally aware workforce, and for the office to establish a true baseline of data against which to measure progress and develop appropriate targeted tools to support Indigenous outreach across the whole office.
There are historic, geographic and cultural reasons why communication with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities present challenges and through the development of the strategy thus far, the office has already identified gaps in our approach which the strategy will be designed to address. A significant challenge to this work and to any other efforts to improve our ability to meet the needs of Indigenous people and other at risk groups is appropriate resourcing to our office.
Ecologically sustainable development
The Ombudsman continued to encourage staff to manage all resources, including energy, prudently and in an ecologically responsible manner.
The office's Environmental Management Policy and staff information focus on energy conservation in the workplace, including the use of lighting, computer equipment, water management, transport management and organic recycling. The office actively recycles toner/printer cartridges, paper and cardboard products, classified waste and cans/tins, bottles and plastic. These strategies are promoted to staff through the office intranet and induction program.
An electronic records management system has also been introduced, which continues to be refined to support a reduction in the use of paper.
Our office has moved to new premises with a 5 star energy rating.
Reporting on resource usage specific to the ACT Ombudsman function only is not possible.
ACT Women's Plan
The Ombudsman's office continues to provide support to the objectives of the ACT Women's Plan by:
- promoting the rights of all individuals, including women and girls, to complain about the administrative actions and decisions of government agencies
- providing a flexible, sensitive and responsive complaints service that can deal effectively with complaints from women and girls.