Section C | Legislative and policy based reporting
- 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
- ACT Women's Plan
- ACT Strategic Plan for Positive Ageing 2010-2014
Public Interest Disclosure
Under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1994 (Public Interest Disclosure), a person may make a publicinterest disclosure to any ACT Government agency including the Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman can become involved directly or at the request of the agency concerned. Public Interest Disclosure matters are among the most complex cases the Ombudsman deals with in terms of their investigation and resolution.
Public Interest Disclosure 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 2010-11 we received five complaints that were Public Interest Disclosure or characterised as Public Interest Disclosures by the complainant. Two complaints were finalised, and three are ongoing.
A review of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1994 was due in 2007 however this did not occur. In May 2011 the Ombudsman met with the Commissioner for Public Administration to discuss Public Interest Disclosures and our thoughts on what should feature in the ACT Legislation.
Freedom of Information
Complaints about actions of agencies
Section 55(2) 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 seven complaints involving seven agencies about the processing of requests under the FOI Act. Of these, six were investigated and one was closed on the grounds that investigation was not considered warranted in the circumstances.
We closed six complaints during the year. Two of these complaints had been received during the previous annual report year.
FOI requests to the Ombudsman
In 2010-11, the ACT Ombudsman received six FOI requests under s 14 of the FOI Act.
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 that 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 appointed Allan Asher as Commonwealth Ombudsman, commencing in August 2010. Mr Ron Brent, Deputy Ombudsman and Acting Ombudsman moved at this time to the new role of Aircraft Noise Ombudsman. Alison Larkins was appointed as Deputy Ombudsman in March 2011.
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 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.
Commissioner for the Environment
The Ombudsman's office received one complaint where we consulted the Commissioner for the Environment and it was agreed that the Commissioner would investigate the complaint.
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 on our website (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
An Indigenous Communication and Engagement Strategy was started in early 2010 to support the office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman and the ACT Ombudsman in engaging more effectively with Indigenous people and communities in the Northern Territory, the Australian Capital Territory and across all states. This work has been informed by research among selected Indigenous communities in urban, regional and remote locations to gain a better understanding of attitudes, cultural influences, levels of awareness and the best ways to engage with the diversity of Indigenous communities.
The research was completed in late 2010 and is informing the development of more effective visual communication materials and messages. It has also confirmed the style of outreach undertaken by the office in the Northern Territory in its role in relation to the Northern Territory Emergency Response and Closing the Gap programs. The research report will be included with a report on lessons learnt in engaging and dealing with complaints from Indigenous people, to be completed later in 2011.
The finding that there are many and significant barriers to Indigenous people making complaints has also confirmed the need for a culturally aware workforce and the value of developing a Reconciliation Action Plan, currently underway through the office's social inclusion working group, made up of staff from a number of investigation teams and state offices. Contacts have been made with representatives of the local ACT Indigenous community to promote greater access to Ombudsman services locally, although this work represents only a small part of what is required to more effectively engage with Indigenous people and communities in the wider Australian community. A significant challenge to this work remains appropriate levels of resourcing to the 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's premises have a 5 star energy rating.
Reporting on resource usage specific to the ACT Ombudsman function only is not possible.
ACT Women's Plan
Where possible the Ombudsman's office will provide support to the objectives of the ACT Women's Plan 2010-2015 by:
- promoting the rights of all individuals, including women and girls, to complain about the administrative actions and decision of government agencies
- providing a flexible, sensitive and responsive complaints service that can deal effectively with complaints from women and girls.
ACT Strategic Plan for Positive Ageing 2010-2014
The ACT Strategic Plan for Positive Ageing (2010-2014) has been developed in partnership with the ACT Ministerial Advisory Council on Ageing with a focus on the following key principles:
- social inclusion, participation and self-fulfilment
- respect and valuing
- support, independence and dignity
Taking into account the key values of the Plan, the Ombudsman is keen to ensure that ACT Government agencies provide ACT seniors easily accessible information about government services, especially housing, transport and support services. In particular, the Ombudsman encourages ACT Government agencies to provide better coordinated information and communication to senior persons in a range of senior centric friendly formats.