Part 1: Review by the ACT Ombudsman
I am pleased to introduce the ACT Ombudsman Annual Report 2020–21.
The year began under the shadow of COVID-19 and the restrictions associated with trying to bring a pandemic under control. Canberra remained relatively COVID-free, but the continuing economic and societal impacts, and the on-going uncertainty had a bearing on the way we do our work. Despite this, 2020–21 was a year of active engagement for the Office, ensuring that ACT agencies are held accountable in a way that is fair and constructive.
In this reporting year, the number of complaints we received about ACT agencies increased when compared to 2019–20. This may reflect the reliance that more people have on government services during the pandemic, as well as a greater awareness of the role the ACT Ombudsman plays in resolving complaints.
In 2020–21, the Office issued 3 public reports of interest to the ACT community. The first report investigated a lack of transparency in the valuation decisions of commercial land by the ACT Revenue Office. This report highlighted that community confidence follows from good practices, including making the reasons for administrative decisions available to those impacted by them. The second reported on a lack of coherent and up-to-date policies and practices to support detainees being held at the Alexander Maconochie Centre (AMC) applying for parole. This investigation was a priority for the Office as even the smallest administrative error has the potential to result in a person being detained beyond their earliest release date. The third public report issued by the Office reported on ACT Policing’s administrative framework for engagement with the ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. This report was a crucial step to better understand how ACT Policing approaches its engagement with the ACT’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. We assessed whether the programs, policies, procedures and training ACT Policing has in place are appropriate and whether they support consistent, fair and accountable decisions and actions.
The Commonwealth Ombudsman also issued a report of interest to the ACT community that arose from a self-disclosure by the Australian Federal Police (AFP). This public report made recommendations to the AFP, including ACT Policing, to improve compliance when using powers to access telecommunications data to enforce the criminal law. These powers are exercised covertly, without the knowledge of the person whose data is being accessed. It is vital that all agencies comply with legal requirements when they use covert powers, such as access to telecommunications data, including safeguards designed to protect privacy.
We are mindful that if we are to provide assurance, to help people who come to us, and to optimise systemic improvements, we need to engage closely with our stakeholders and bring professional curiosity to every issue.
During preparation of this report, Michael Manthorpe PSM retired as the Ombudsman and the process for the selection of a replacement commenced. I will continue to act in the position until a new Ombudsman is appointed.