Section A: Performance and financial management reporting
The ACT Ombudsman is an independent statutory officer who considers complaints about the administrative actions of ACT Government agencies. The Ombudsman aims to foster good public administration by recommending remedies and changes to agency decisions, policies and procedures. The Ombudsman also makes submissions to government on legislative and policy reform.
The office investigates complaints in accordance with its service charter and a work practice manual. It carries out complaint investigations impartially, independently and in private. Complaints may be made by telephone, in person or in writing (by letter, email, facsimile or by using the online complaint form on the website). Anonymous complaints are also accepted.
The role of the ACT Ombudsman is performed under the Ombudsman Act 1989 (ACT) (ACT Ombudsman Act). The Ombudsman also has specific responsibilities under the Freedom of Information Act 1989 (ACT) (FOI Act) and the Australian Federal Police Act 1979 (Cth) (AFP Act), and is authorised to deal with whistleblower complaints under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1994 (ACT) (PID Act).
The Commonwealth Ombudsman, who is appointed under the Ombudsman Act 1976 (Cth) (Ombudsman Act), discharges the role of ACT Ombudsman under the ACT Self-Government (Consequential Provisions) Act 1988 (Cth) (ACT Self‑Government Act). In addition, the Ombudsman has a role in monitoring compliance under Chapter 4 (Child Sex Offenders Register) of the Crimes (Child
Sex Offenders) Act 2005 (ACT) (Child Sex Offenders Act) by the ACT Chief Police Officer and other people authorised by the Chief Police Officer to have access to the register. The Ombudsman also has
the power to inspect relevant records to monitor ACT Policing’s compliance under the Crimes (Controlled Operations) Act 2008 (ACT) (Controlled Operations Act) and Crimes (Surveillance Devices) Act 2010 (ACT) (Surveillance Devices Act).
The key values of the ACT Ombudsman are independence, impartiality, integrity, accessibility, professionalism and teamwork.
Ombudsman clients and stakeholders include people who may be affected by the administrative actions of ACT Government agencies, and by actions of the Australian Federal Police (AFP) in carrying out their ACT Policing role. A services agreement between the ACT Government and the Ombudsman is the
basis for the funding provided to the office for undertaking the ACT Ombudsman role.
In the first half of 2011–12, the Ombudsman delegated day-to-day responsibility for operational matters
for the ACT Ombudsman to Senior Assistant Ombudsman Helen Fleming and responsibility for law enforcement (including ACT Policing) to Senior Assistant Ombudsman Diane Merryfull. In October 2011, an organisational restructure saw all ACT Ombudsman operational matters delegated to Ms Merryfull.
Summary of complaints received
In 2011–12, the office received 763 approaches and complaints1 about the actions of ACT Government agencies and ACT Policing—625 about ACT Government agencies and 138 about the actions of ACT Policing. Compared to the 2010–11 financial year total of 742 approaches and complaints, this represents a 3% increase in approaches and complaints received (600 about ACT Government agencies and 142 about ACT Policing). This increase was primarily driven by an increase in complaints about ACT government agencies. Complaints about ACT Policing decreased by 3%, continuing a four year trend of decreasing complaint numbers.
Housing ACT and ACT Corrective Services (Corrective Services) continue to attract the largest number of ACT Government agency approaches and complaints (151 and 73 respectively in 2011–12). While the number of approaches and complaints about Housing ACT increased from the previous reporting period, significantly fewer complaints were made about Corrective Services (down by 96 (57%)). The numbers of approaches and complaints about these agencies do not necessarily indicate that they are not performing well; they reflect the nature of the role and responsibilities of each agency in the community.
During the reporting period, the office finalised 733 approaches and complaints, 592 of which were about
ACT Government agencies and 141 about ACT Policing. Detailed analysis is provided under the Performance section of this report in ‘ACT Government directorates—approaches and complaints’ and ‘ACT Policing— complaints and investigations’.
Figure 1 provides a comparison of approaches and complaints received about ACT Government agencies for the period 2002–03 to 2011–12. Figure 2 illustrates the spread of approaches and complaints received across ACT Government directorates and ACT Policing. Table 1 shows the method of receipt of complaints received by the Ombudsman’s office.
Figure 1: Approaches and complaints received about ACT Government agencies (excluding ACT Policing) 2002–03 to 2011–12
The chart shows a steady increase in approaches and complaints from 447 in 2002-03 to 625 in 2011-12
Figure 2: Spread of approaches and complaints received about ACT Government Directorates and ACT Policing, 2011–12
The chart shows which ACT Government Directorates attracted the most approaches and complaints to the ACT Ombudsman’s office. In 2011-12, the Justice and Community Safety Directorate attracted the most – 24 per cent of all approaches and complaints, followed by Community Services, which includes Housing ACT, on 22 per cent and ACT Policing on 18 per cent. The Territory and Municipal Services Directorate and Environment and Sustainable Development Directorate each attracted 10 per cent of all approaches and complaints. Economic Development attracted six per cent; Education and Training five per cent; Treasury three per cent, Health two and Chief Minister and Cabinet, less than one per cent.
Table 1: Approaches and complaints, by method received2 about ACT Government directorates and ACT Policing 2011–12
Submissions and major investigations
The Ombudsman’s outcome in 2011–12 was fair and accountable administrative action by agencies.3 An important aspect of achieving this outcome is for the Ombudsman to contribute to public discussion on administrative law and public administration and, in doing so, foster good public administration that is accountable, lawful, fair, transparent and responsive. In 2011–12, the office made submissions to, or commented on, a range of administrative practice matters, cabinet submissions and legislative proposals. These included submissions to:
- Legislative Assembly committee inquiries into the feasibility of establishing the position of Officer of the Parliament4 and the Provision of Social Housing in the ACT5
- the ACT Community Services Directorate’s consultation on the Working with Vulnerable People (Background Checking) Act 2010
- the ACT Chief Minister and Cabinet Directorate on the exposure draft of the Public Interest Disclosure Bill 2011.
The office also published a report under section 18 of the ACT Ombudsman Act following investigations into two complaints about delays in finalising applications for financial assistance under the Victims of Crime (Financial Assistance) Act 1983 (Victims of Crime (Financial Assistance) Act).6 The Attorney-General responded positively to this report, saying that he had directed his officials to provide him with detailed advice on alternative models for administration of the scheme having regard to the Ombudsman’s recommendations (see page 20).
Organisational planning and environment
The 2010–13 Commonwealth and ACT Ombudsman strategic plan sets out the office’s outcomes and strategic objectives. The outcomes are:
- Accountable, fair and transparent public administration
- An independent and effective avenue for the public to complain
- Best practice integrity agency.
In 2011–12, the Ombudsman’s office started a major planning process that involved reviewing its strategic priorities, its organisational structure and work practices.
A staged implementation of the plan, including an organisational restructure and a re-engineering of work practices, will begin in 2012–13. A range of projects has been identified to support the implementation.
Detailed reporting on office-wide initiatives against the priorities for 2011–12 is provided in the Commonwealth Ombudsman Annual Report 2011–12, which will be available on the website (www.ombudsman.gov.au) in late October 2012.
- 1All contacts to the ACT Ombudsman’s office from the public are recorded as ‘approaches’. Those which express dissatisfaction with some aspect of ACT government administration are referred to as ‘complaints’. Some ‘approaches’ amount to requests for information, or do not clearly identify what the issue of concern is. These ‘approaches’ are not necessarily considered to be ’complaints’.
- 2Electronic includes email, internet and SMS; Telephone includes voicemail; Written includes fax.
- 3Portfolio Budget Statements 2011–12 Budget related paper no. 1.15A Prime Minister and Cabinet Portfolio, p 457.
- 5http://www.parliament.act.gov.au/downloads/submissions/Sub%2011%20ACT%20Ombudsman. pdf%20ACT%20Ombudsman.pdf.
In addition to managing the complaints discussed in the statement of performance section on page 7, the office:
- published a report under section 18 of the ACT Ombudsman Act following investigations into two complaints about delays in finalising applications for financial assistance under the Victims of Crime (Financial Assistance) Act7 in May 2012. The investigations found that the administrative arrangements in place for progressing and finalising applications needed significant improvement. The Ombudsman recommended that these arrangements be reviewed and a more structured process for dealing with applications be put in place (see ‘ACT Government directorates—approaches and complaints: Justice and Community Safety Directorate’)
- held a community forum in June 2012 to discuss complaints and service delivery.
In 2012–13, the office plans to:
- increase efforts to encourage ACT Government directorates to move towards consistent and effective complaint management business processes across all areas of government
- improve awareness of the ACT Ombudsman in the community and engage with vulnerable people in the community
- improve strategic analysis of ACT Policing complaint matters, including publishing reports on the use of tasers
- continue to focus attention on working with the AFP to improve its timeliness in finalising complaint investigations.
A new service level agreement with the ACT Government will also be negotiated.
Statement of Performance
Summary of performance
In 2011–12, the ACT Government paid an unaudited total of $961,833 (excluding GST) to the Ombudsman’s office for the provision of ACT Ombudsman services. This represented a 2.6% increase over the previous year’s total of $937,460.
The Ombudsman is funded under a services agreement with the ACT Government that was signed on 31 March 2008. Payments (including GST) were for the purposes of the ACT Ombudsman Act ($452,779) and for complaint handling in relation to ACT Policing ($509,054).
The office’s performance against indicators is shown in Table 2. It shows that in 2011–12 timeliness in resolving complaints improved. Further detail is available under the headings ‘ACT Government directorates—Approaches and complaints’ and ‘ACT Policing’.
Table 2: Summary of achievements against performance indicators 2010–11 and 2011–12
|Performance Indicators||ACT Government Agencies||ACT Policing|
|Number of approaches and complaints received||600||625||142||138|
|Number of approaches and complaints finalised||626||592||148||141|
|Time taken to finalise complaints||82% within 3 months||88% within 3 months||91% within 3 months||91% within 3 months|
The statistical report in Appendix 1 provides details of approaches and complaints received and finalised, and remedies provided to complainants in 2011–12. Figure 3 illustrates the time taken to finalise approaches and complaints about ACT Government agencies and ACT Policing during the reporting period. Table 3 summarises the remedies provided in finalised complaints about ACT Government directorates and ACT Policing.
Figure 3: Time taken to finalise approaches and complaints about ACT Government agencies and ACT Policing 2011–12
The chart shows that most approaches and complaints were finalised on the same day – just under 50 per cent of approaches and complaints about ACT Policing and around 35 per cent about ACT Government agencies. Around 15 to 20 per cent take one to seven days and the same proportion eight to 30 days. Around three to five per cent of all approaches and complaints take over six months to finalise.
Table 3: Remedies provided in finalised complaints about ACT Government directorates and ACT Policing 2011–12
|Type of Remedy||ACT Government||ACT Policing|
|Decision changed or reconsidered||7%||11%|
|Better explanation provided||62%||33%|
|Other non-financial remedy||4%||22%|
|Remedy provided without Ombudsman intervention8||8%||0%|
The categories of approaches and complaints range from simple approaches that can be resolved with minimal investigation to more complex matters requiring the office to exercise its formal statutory powers. In all approaches that require investigation, Ombudsman staff contact the agency to obtain further information about the complaint and provide the agency with an opportunity to respond to the issues raised in the complaint. Often, an approach from this office to the agency helps to resolve the matter in the first instance.
Where a complaint involves complex or multiple issues, the Ombudsman may decide to conduct a more formal investigation using the powers under s 9 of the ACT Ombudsman Act to investigate, and occasionally using the powers under s 11 to compel agencies or officers to provide requested information. No notices under s 11 were issued in 2011–12. The decision to investigate a matter more formally can be made for one or more reasons:
- there is a specific need to gain access to agency records
- there is likely to be a delay in the time taken by an agency to respond to the request for information unless a formal notice is issued
- it becomes necessary to question an officer under oath or affirmation because the nature of the issues raised by the complainant are likely to bring the individual officer’s professionalism into question
- the agency requests that formal powers be used so that the investigation will be conducted within an agreed and unambiguous framework.
When an Ombudsman investigation has been finalised, the complainant is told the result, including what actions (if any) the agency will take to solve the issues. If an Ombudsman investigation finds that an agency’s decision is not unreasonable, we will explain the decision and how it was reached to the complainant. As identified in Table 3, this is the most frequent remedy provided to people who complain to the ACT Ombudsman. This indicates that more could be done by agencies to explain their processes and decisions so they are clearly understood.
During 2011–12, the Ombudsman formally concluded that an agency’s administration was deficient in four matters. Two of these matters were covered in the Ombudsman’s section 18 report regarding the delays in finalising applications for financial assistance under the Victims of Crime (Financial Assistance) Act. The remaining matters concerned delays in providing a service for which the customer had already paid, and lost property.
The office also makes recommendations to agencies to consider improvements to processes or policies without making a finding of administrative deficiency. In such cases, the office will conclude an investigation without finding that any unreasonable or inappropriate action occurred, but noting opportunities for improvement in the agency’s service delivery. In 2011–12, the office concluded 30 investigations with recommendations to agencies. In broad terms, these recommendations included that agencies:
- use plain language in correspondence, particularly where technical or legal issues are involved
- conduct internal audits or reviews of programs and services and provide reports of such reviews to the Ombudsman’s office
- remind third-party service providers of their obligations under contract to the agency
- engage and cooperate with other agencies in relation to responsibilities that span multiple directorates
- update and consolidate information on agency websites
- provide complainants with written explanations for delays experienced in service delivery
- reconsider applications in the light of new information provided during the course of an Ombudsman investigation.
If a complainant disagrees with the conclusions made by the Ombudsman’s office in relation to their complaint, they can request a review of the decision. The complainant is required to give reasons for seeking such a review. This helps the office to fully understand the complainant’s concerns.
During 2011–12, the office dealt with five requests for review. All five related to ACT Government agencies. In three cases, the original decision was affirmed. In two cases, the complaint was referred back to the relevant team in the office for further investigation. Of these, one case remains under consideration at the time of drafting this report.
Liaison and training
The office aims to develop a better understanding by ACT Government agency staff of the role and responsibilities of the Ombudsman.
In 2011–12, the office participated in two major community outreach activities:
- an information and discussion session about the roles and functions of the Ombudsman’s office for ACT Legislative Assembly staff, in October 2011
- a forum for community group representatives, in June 2012.
Further outreach activities are planned for 2012–13. The office will develop information products specifically for the Canberra community and conduct two community forums.
We encourage agencies to involve Ombudsman staff in their internal training sessions and to provide the Better Practice Guide to Complaint Handling and Better Practice Guide to Managing Unreasonable Complainant Conduct to contact officers, where appropriate. These publications are available on the ACT Ombudsman website (www.ombudsman.act.gov.au).
During the reporting period:
- Ombudsman staff delivered information sessions as part of the induction process for ACT Corrective Services staff
- the Offices of the ACT and Commonwealth Ombudsman co-sponsored, with the Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals, a workshop on making better use of complaint data. About half the participants of the May 2012 workshop—Collecting, Analysing and Reporting on Complaint Data—were from ACT Government agencies.
In 2012–13, the ACT Ombudsman’s office plans to work with directorates to deliver complaint management training and, in late 2012, will host a complaint forum for ACT government staff.
Liaising with directorates is an essential part of the office’s role and includes formal and informal meetings with agency staff. During the reporting period, Ombudsman staff:
- participated in regular meetings with senior staff in ACT Government agencies to provide feedback on complaints received and provide suggestions for improved complaint handling
- attended liaison meetings regarding the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Justice Implementation Plan
- took part in familiarisation visits at the Alexander Maconochie Centre (AMC)
- participated in regular Oversight Agencies Working Group meetings held at the AMC.
- 8We record this outcome where an agency reaches a decision or remedy without our input, or before we have begun our investigation. For example, having commenced our investigation, the agency may decide to take further action to provide an outcome for the complainant before the Ombudsman’s office has concluded investigating, or before we have made comment on the reasonableness of the actions taken previously. Alternatively, our investigation may reveal that the actions taken by the agency prior to our investigation did amount to a reasonable remedy for the complainant in the circumstances. Consequently there is no requirement for the Ombudsman’s office to make any further comment or recommendation to the agency.