Part 3: Performance analysis
In 2020–21, 1,168 contacts were made to our Office, comprising
- 277 enquiries about our ACT Ombudsman functions
- 634 complaints about ACT agencies, organisations or ACT Policing
- 257 program specific matters (for example, Freedom of Information (FOI) review requests).
These are discussed in more detail in the sections below.
We received 277 enquiries to the ACT Ombudsman via our phone line and electronically in 2020–21. Of these:
- 113 were related to the reportable conduct scheme
- 35 were about FOI
- one was about our role as the Inspector of Integrity Commission
- 4 were general enquiries related to the work of the ACT Ombudsman
- 35 related to the work of the Commonwealth Ombudsman
- 89 were out of jurisdiction (OOJ) for our Office
Figure 1: Breakdown of the enquiries received by topic area
In 2020–21, as outlined in Table 1, the Office received a total of 634 complaints, comprising:
- 103 complaints that related to ACT Policing.
- 500 complaints that related to ACT agencies and general public administration matters
- 6 complaints that related to the FOI Act
- 21 complaints that related to the ACT Reportable Conduct Scheme, and
- 4 complaint related to our work as Inspector of the ACT Integrity Commission.
Table 1—ACT complaints received during 2020–21, compared with the last two financial years
|Complaints received about ACT agencies||381||423||500|
|Complaints received about ACT Policing||61||70||103|
|Complaints received related to FOI Act||5||11||6|
|Complaints received related to ACT Reportable Conduct Scheme||20||15||21|
|Complaints received about ACT Integrity Commission||-||1||4|
|Total complaints received||467||520||634|
There was a 22 per cent increase in total complaints received since last financial year. Complaints about agencies increased, with 423 complaints received in 2019–20, compared to 500 complaints in 2020–21.
Complaints regarding ACT Policing increased, with 103 complaints received in 2020–21, compared to 70 complaints received in 2019–20 and 61 complaints in 2018–19.
Complaints about agencies
Table 2 outlines the complaints received, by ACT directorates, ACT Policing, and other independent ACT agencies, and the percentage of total complaints received.9
Table 2— ACT complaints received during 2020–21 by agency
|Community Services Directorate||140||23%|
|Justice and Community Safety Directorate||123||20%|
|Chief Minister, Treasury and Economic Development Directorate||110||18%|
|Independent Statutory Offices||34||6%|
|Transport Canberra and City Services Directorate||32||5%|
|Environment Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate||24||4%|
|Canberra Health Services||5||1%|
|Office of the Legislative Assembly||1||-|
The largest number of complaints received in 2020–21 was about the Community Services Directorate (CSD). Together, complaints about CSD, the Justice and Community Safety Directorate (JACS) and the Chief Minister, Treasury and Economic Development Directorate (CMTEDD) made up 62 per cent of all complaints about ACT agencies.
For individual agencies, as opposed to directorates, the largest number of complaints received were about:
- Housing ACT with 130
- ACT Corrective Services (ACTCS) with 116, and
- Access Canberra with 79.
A more detailed table indicating complaints received by individual agencies is provided at Appendix 1.
How complaints were received
Figure 2 shows the preferred method for contacting the Office this reporting year was by telephone. 11
Based on comparing the proportion of contacts, methods of contacting the Office were broadly consistent with the previous financial year. There was a slight decrease (2%) in telephone approaches and a slight increase (3%) in web-based form (Internet).
9 This does not include complaints related to the FOI Act, Inspector of the ACT Integrity Commission and Reportable Conduct Scheme, which are discussed separately in this report.
10 Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding.
11 Includes complaints received about ACT Policing and ACT agencies.
Figure 2: How ACT complaints were made during 2020–21 compared to the previous financial year
As outlined in Table 3, in 2020–21 the Office finalised a total of 622 complaints comprising:
- 107 ACT Policing matters
- 483 complaints relating to ACT government agencies
- 07 complaints relating to the FOI Act
- 21 complaints relating to the Reportable Conduct Scheme.
- 4 complaints relating to our work as Inspector of the ACT Integrity Commission.
Table 3: ACT complaints finalised during 2020–21, compared to the previous 2 financial years
|ACT Government agencies||382||424||483|
|ACT Reportable Conduct Scheme||15||16||21|
|ACT Integrity Commission||-||-||4|
|Total complaints finalised||462||521||622|
Every complaint is assessed on its merits to determine whether it can be resolved quickly, or a formal investigation is required. Our focus on early resolution provides a better service for complainants and agencies, with positive outcomes for people often able to be achieved without the Office proceeding to a full investigation.
CASE STUDY – ACTCS and AMC
A detainee contacted the Office concerned about their safety, due to threats of violence from other detainees. The detainee advised they experienced serious physical harm while previously in detention. They were not sleeping and were too scared to leave their room. Due to the claimed urgency, the Office transferred the complaint immediately to ACTCS under our assisted referral policy.
In less than 2 working days, ACTCS advised the Office that staff had followed up with the detainee to ensure they had not been assaulted during their current period of custody. ACTCS staff confirmed the detainee’s concerns related to a threat from a particular detainee. ACTCS assured the Office that appropriate actions were taken to ensure the risk was mitigated.
Outcomes achieved for investigated complaints
The table at Appendix 2 provides outcomes resulting from investigations finalised in 2020–21. More than one outcome can be achieved per complaint investigation.
The outcomes achieved this financial year included:
- the Ombudsman being able to provide a better explanation to the complainant in 31 cases
- a better explanation being provided by the agency in 15 cases
- a decision being changed or reconsidered in 9 cases.
- an apology was given in 9 cases
- a change to a law, policy or procedure in 8 cases
- a remedy being provided by the agency in 7 cases, and
- the action was expedited in 6 cases
During 2020–21, the Office finalised 46 investigations. In most matters, the complainant’s concerns were resolved after we started our investigation and raised the matter with the relevant agency. In some matters, we were able to provide independent assurance to complainants that agencies had acted reasonably and lawfully and give a better explanation of what occurred.
Performance against service standards
The Office’s service standards are available on the ‘What we do with your complaint’ webpage on our website. These standards apply to complaints we receive about agencies.
We aim to resolve 60 per cent of all government complaints within 7 days. We are usually able to achieve this timeframe for routine or simple complaints, but more complex complaints take longer. This means we may not always meet the 60 per cent target when we receive a higher proportion of more complex complaints.
In 2020–21, 43.5 per cent of complaints finalised about agencies were closed in 7 days, with 67 per cent of complaints finalised in 30 days. Four ACT complaints took longer than 12 months to finalise.
We continue to explore ways to deliver efficiencies in complaints management, while ensuring we provide the ACT community with appropriate levels of service when complex complaints are made.
Complaint trends and agency engagement
The sections below provide detailed commentary on complaint trends about specific agencies during 2020–21 and the initiatives by the Office in response.
Complaints made about FOI or Reportable Conduct matters are discussed separately under the relevant sections. Complaints about the ACT Integrity Commission are discussed in the ACT Inspector of the Integrity Commission Annual Report 2020–21.
The way we deliver education activities to stakeholders has changed fundamentally and we may not entirely go back to the old way of doing things. Webinars and other online offerings are cheaper and more accessible to most people. The ACT Ombudsman opened a webinar in September 2020 about effective complaint handling during COVID-19. The webinar was well received and attended by representatives from Commonwealth and ACT Government agencies.
We liaise regularly with directorates and agencies across the ACT as part of our oversight role, to monitor possible systemic issues and identify improvements for public administration. For example, we participated in meetings with the ACT Human Rights Commission, ACT Housing, Access Canberra, ACT Corrective Services (ACTCS), and the ACT Integrity Commission and we continued our regular engagement with ACT Policing.
ACT Corrective Services
In 2020–21, the Office received 116 complaints about ACTCS, one fewer than last year.
Each complaint was about the Alexander Maconochie Centre (AMC), and the complaints were made by detainees, their friends and families. Common complaints issues related to:
- medical treatment
- parole processes
- quality of food
- access to visitors, and
- segregation and management.
A complaint issue that arose this year related to inter-prison communication and transfer policies given ACT detainees can, in certain circumstances, be transferred to NSW Corrective Services. We continue to work with ACTCS to ensure their policies and procedures relating to inter-prison transfers are current and appropriate. We also received complaints relating to the lack of access for family visits and cultural supports at ACTCS.
In relation to our oversight of the AMC, the Office:
- continued to attend virtual meetings with ACTCS, the Official Visitors, the ACT Human Rights Commission, the ACT Inspector of Correctional Services, and the ACT Public Advocate
- presented information sessions about the ACT Ombudsman’s role and jurisdiction at the induction training for ACTCS custodial officer recruits, and
- participated in a roundtable meeting hosted by JACS and attended by stakeholders to discuss the implementation of the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) and the designation of National Preventative Mechanisms in the ACT.
CASE STUDY – AMC
A complainant, detained at the AMC, complained that a program, designed to address his criminogenic behaviour, would not be offered during his non-parole period. He also expressed a concern that, given his individual history, being required to complete the program as part of a group was potentially traumatising for him. After the Office received his complaint and informed the AMC, the AMC offered him the option to engage in the program on a one-on-one basis, starting immediately. The program would be continued in the community should he be granted parole.
During 2020–21, the Office received 130 complaints about Housing ACT, a 73 percent increase in complaints compared to 2019–21. The most common issues raised included:
- maintenance and repair issues, including failure to properly assess repair and maintenance needs
- complaints about the administration of the priority waiting list
- anti-social behaviour and neighbourhood disputes, and
- debt and refund issues.
Social housing is a valuable and limited resource. We work closely with Housing ACT to ensure the administration of this resource is managed in accordance with best practice and administrative law principles, policy and legislation.
In addition to our regular quarterly meetings with Housing ACT, we also meet regularly with Canberra Community Law and other community providers of housing and homelessness services, to build a greater understanding of the economic and social environment in which Housing ACT operates.
Housing ACT is part of CSD. Complaints for Housing ACT can be handled by many different teams within CSD and, as they do not have a dedicated complaint handling system, it can sometimes be difficult to access all relevant records. Not only can this cause delays for complainants, it can also cause delays when responding to our Office. CSD is currently in the process of reviewing and rewriting their complaint management policies and procedures and we look forward to the outcomes of this process.
CASE STUDY – Housing ACT
A complainant wrote expressing concern about delays in receiving information from Housing ACT. The complainant had requested decisions in relation to approval of house modifications, adjustment of rental rebate and allegations that emails had been falsified.
The complainant had been pursuing a resolution to the first of these matters since 2017. The outcome of an investigation was due in February 2020. The complainant contacted the Office in April 2020, when they did not receive the outcome as expected.
Our initial letter to Housing ACT was sent on 29 April 2020. We did not receive a comprehensive response to our enquiries until February 2021. The response noted the house modifications were approved in June 2020 and the rental rebate was recalculated and back dated to August 2018. Housing ACT apologised to the complainant for the lengthy delay in finalising the matter and noted that new arrangements for the management of house modifications were now in place.
Housing ACT advised that archiving practices made it difficult to retrieve electronic copies of emails older than 6 months and they relied on hard copies kept on file. Housing ACT also advised they are reviewing business practices for handling and managing of complaints. We are working with Housing ACT to support better processes and outcomes.
The number of complaints received about Access Canberra increased from 66 in 2019–20 to 79 in 2020 21, which is an increase of 20 per cent.
Similar themes were evident in complaints about Access Canberra, compared to the previous financial year, with complaints covering a broad range of issues including:
- licencing and registration
- building noise and approvals and not following policy or procedure
- parking and traffic infringement notices
- working with vulnerable people registration practices, and
- investigating fair trading complaints.
The Office maintains regular engagement with Access Canberra by meeting quarterly to discuss complaint trends and how we can work together effectively. During 2020–21, Executive staff from the Office gave a presentation to Access Canberra’s senior leadership group to share our insights into better practice complaint handling.
CASE STUDY – Access Canberra
We were contacted by a complainant advising they had not received a refund of ACT vehicle registration fees after moving interstate. A combination of human error and system software changes had hindered both the payment of the refund and the resolution of the complaint.
Following an investigation by the ACT Ombudsman, Access Canberra contacted the complainant, apologised for the delay, and confirmed the refund was paid. This resolved the matter to the complainant’s satisfaction. Access Canberra also advised the Office the transition to the new customer experience software system is now complete.
Transport Canberra and City Services
In 2020–21, the number of complaints received about Transport Canberra and City Services (TCCS) increased by 23 per cent. Thirty-two complaints were received this financial year, compared to 26 complaints received the previous financial year.
Complaints about TCCS covered a broad range of issues including:
- transport and traffic issues, such as vehicle registration, cancellations and defect notices
- domestic animals, such as nuisance animals and issues with Domestic Animal Service staff, and
- property matters such as damage caused by trees and works to neighbouring properties.
Historically, we receive a high number of complaints about dangerous dogs. We continue to monitor this issue closely with TCCS and clarified how the ACT community can make complaints about dangerous dogs. This information is published on the ACT Ombudsman website.12
We continue to work with TCCS to improve their complaint handling processes.
12ACT Ombudsman, Dangerous Dogs webpage, viewed 06 August 2021,
CASE STUDY – TCCS
A complainant advised this Office they had not received a response from Transport Canberra and City Services (TCCS) to their complaint. The complaint related to a shared driveway being repaired by a Roads ACT contractor, without adequate notice given to the resident. While the contractor was replacing the driveway, the neighbour widened the driveway without approval and laid sub-base on their side of the drive. The complainant lived in a Housing ACT property and had contacted TCCS several times about the concerns they had with the driveway but did not receive a response. The neighbour received several responses from TCCS about various requests to have the driveway repaired. The complainant contacted the Office for assistance.
After making preliminary inquiries with TCCS, we started an investigation and identified several issues of concern. Our investigation revealed the treatment received by the neighbour and the complainant was unequal, unfair and potentially displayed bias. In addition, TCCS did not follow its investigation timeframes
We made several suggestions to TCCS, including for the Directorate to contact the complainant to arrange the necessary repairs, apologise to the complainant, take appropriate action against the neighbour, and develop appropriate procedures for complaint handling, including staff training and education. TCCS has since been in touch with the complainant, apologised and inspected the driveway for necessary repairs. TCCS also accepted our offer to provide training to staff on complaint handling and avoiding bias.
ACT Revenue Office
We received 13 complaints about the ACT Revenue Office (ACTRO) in 2020–21, a decrease of 24 per cent compared to 2019–20. Common complaint issues were:
- refusal of Home Builder Grants
- landholder duty
- late payment penalties, and
- matters relating to rental bonds.
The decrease in complaint numbers and the change in complaint issues may indicate the reforms made by ACTRO to improve communications with rate payers are helping people to understand the decisions being made. We continue to work with ACTRO in relation to ensuring the reasons for decisions are clearly communicated to the public.
Freedom of Information
FOI contacts received
In 2020–21, the Office received 113 contacts related to our role as the independent oversight agency for FOI, compared to 119 contacts in 2019–20. This was a 5 per cent decrease compared to last financial year. As outlined in Figure 3, this included:
- 35 FOI related enquires
- 43 applications for Ombudsman review
- 19 s 39 notices (notices given to the ACT Ombudsman to advise that a decision on an access application was not made in time)
- 10 extension of time requests, and
- 6 FOI related complaints.
Figure 3: Contacts received under the FOI Act in 2020–21, compared to 2019–20
Finalised FOI reviews
As shown in Figure 4, the Office finalised 36 Ombudsman reviews in 2020–21.
The outcomes of these reviews were:
- The original decision was confirmed in 9 cases
- The original decision was varied in 5 cases
- The original decision was set aside in 5 cases
- Twelve matters were closed without review because they were invalid requests or due to no reasonable prospects of success, and
- Five matters were withdrawn following informal resolution activities.
Figure 4: FOI review requests finalised in 2020–21, compared to 2019–20
Performance against service standards
The Office established service standards for our FOI review applications from 1 July 2019.13
In 2020–21, we did not meet our service standards:
- 18 per cent of FOI review matters finalised within 6 weeks (below the standard of 30 per cent)
- 52 per cent finalised in 12 weeks (below the standard of 60 per cent)
- 90 per cent finalised in six months as required (below the standard of 60 per cent).
FOI review matters can generally be finalised within 6 weeks, where informal resolution is successful. Our ability to meet the 30 per cent service standard is expected to vary depending on the number of cases finalised through informal resolution processes.
Where a formal decision is required, matters are expected to take 12 weeks to finalise and complex matters can take longer. Timeframes may also be delayed where agencies are slow to provide copies of relevant documentation to enable a review to commence.
In 2020–21, fewer reviews were resolved by informal resolution and withdrawal than in 2019–20. However, more were resolved by deciding there were no reasonable prospects than in 2019–20. In 2020–21, we observed an increase in the complexity and novelty of the issues identified in reviews. For example, 3 reviews decided during the reporting period involved complex issues relating to intergovernmental relations. The need to fully consider the implications of decisions for relevant intergovernmental relationships contributed to the length of time taken to decide these reviews and this accounts for the small discrepancies between the service standards and real outcomes in 2020–21.
13For more information on Freedom of Information service standards, go to
At 30 June 2021, the Office had published 67 FOI decisions on the ACT Ombudsman website. 14
During the reporting period, 19 of these decisions were published. Publication of decisions contributes to the body of precedent for FOI law, and provides agencies and applicants with guidance on the FOI Act, including the application of the public interest test and transparency in decision-making.
Open access monitoring strategy
In 2020–21, the Office started working with agencies to monitor their compliance with open access requirements. Following self-assessments by agencies and desktop audits by the Office, in this reporting period we wrote to all ACT agencies to report on our findings, provide individualised feedback, and highlight possible opportunities for improved practice. Our initial analysis of 23 agency self-assessments and our desktop audits of 9 Directorates found most agencies are keen to meet their open access obligations.
The Office will continue its open access monitoring strategy in 2021–22, with a focus on agency education.
In response to COVID-19, we engaged with stakeholders in different ways in 2020–21. We circulated 3 newsletters to FOI practitioners in the ACT. The newsletters replaced face-to-face forums. The newsletters provided updates on current events and trends, as well as tips to FOI practitioners dealing with access applications.
To mark International Access to Information Day on 28 September 2020, we released a joint statement with Information Commissioners and Ombudsmen across Australia and New Zealand. The joint statement stressed the importance of transparency and access to government held information during times of crisis.
In November 2020, the Deputy Ombudsman attended the biannual meeting of the Association of Information Access Commissioners with the ACT Ombudsman chairing the second meeting in June 2021.
We hosted a face-to-face FOI practitioners’ forum in February 2021, with more than 30 Information Officers from agencies attending. The forum was an opportunity to reconnect with ACT agencies and involved discussion on processing and deciding access applications.
14 ACT Ombudsman, FOI Review decisions webpage, viewed 16 July 2021, http://www.ombudsman.act.gov.au/improving-the-act/freedom-of-information/foi-review-decisions
15 ACT Ombudsman, Joint statement on International Access to Information Day 2020 webpage, viewed 16 July 2021 https://www.ombudsman.act.gov.au/publications/media/2020/joint-statement-on-international-access-to-information-day-2020
Reportable Conduct – contacts received
The Office received 305 contacts relating to Reportable Conduct in 2020–21, a decrease on the 351 contacts received in 2019–20.
Figure 5 shows:
- 171 notifications from organisations about allegations of reportable conduct
- 113 enquiries, and
- 21 complaints.
Figure 5: Contacts received related to Reportable Conduct in 2020–21, compared to 2019–20
Of the 171 notifications this year, 33 were also reported to ACT Policing. While the number of overall contacts continue to decrease compared to previous years, Figure 5 shows notification volumes are relatively steady. We consider the decrease in enquiries may be because of COVID-19 restrictions.
Table 4 shows the number of notifications received in 2020–21, by sector.
In 2020–21, we continued to receive the largest number of notifications from government and non-government schools (73 reports), followed by education and care service providers (41 matters), and the kinship and foster care sector (37 reports).
Table 4: Notifications received in 2020–21 by sector and percentage of total notifications received
|Government and Non-Government Schools||73||43%|
|Education and Care Service Providers||41||24%|
|Kinship and Foster Care||37||22%|
|Residential Care Organisations||7||4%|
|Health Service Providers||2||1|
Timeliness of notification reporting
Under s 17G(2) of the Ombudsman Act an organisation is required to notify the ACT Ombudsman’s Office within 30 days after becoming aware of a reportable allegation or reportable conviction of an employee.
In 2020–21, organisations demonstrated improved compliance with this obligation. During the reporting period, 77 per cent of notifications were made within the timeframe compared to 60 per cent in 2019–20.
It is important organisations notify the Office within 30 days as the Office can add most value to an organisation’s response when approaches are made early. Where we identify an organisation is not making timely notifications, the Office may encourage the organisation to review its processes and resourcing dedicated to handling allegations of child abuse or child related misconduct by employees.
We published Practice Guide No. 1 to assist organisations with the process of notifying the Office about reportable allegations and convictions against employees.
Under s 17J of the Ombudsman Act, organisations must provide the Office with a written report of the results of its investigation, including actions taken.
The Office assesses the organisation’s overall response, in consideration of a range of factors outlined in our Practice Guide No. 9, to determine if the organisation made sufficient inquiry and took appropriate action(s). The Office may seek further information to be satisfied of the response. We may also provide feedback to the organisation for it to consider in terms of ongoing practice improvement.
The Office finalised 196 matters in 2020–21, a 22 per cent increase in finalised cases compared to 2019–20. Table 5 also shows the allegation type of all finalised matters reported to the Office in 2020–21. The most common allegations reported to the Office in 2020–21 were the same as in 2019–20 and 2018–19, namely, ill-treatment (involving hostile use of force/physical contact) (176 allegations).
17 ACT Ombudsman, ACT Ombudsman Practice Guide No.1 – How the ACT Ombudsman Responds to Notifications and Reports, viewed 16 July 2021, http://www.ombudsman.act.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0035/80999/No.-1-How-the-ACT-Ombudsman-responds-to-notifications-and-reports.pdf
18 ACT Ombudsman, ACT Ombudsman Practice Guide No.9 – How the Ombudsman Assesses an Employer’s Response/Investigation, viewed 16 July 2021, http://www.ombudsman.act.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0015/81006/No.-9-How-the-ACT-Ombudsman-assesses-an-employers-response_investigation.pdf
Table 5: Allegation type for matters finalised in 2020–21 and percentage of all allegations reported
|Ill-treatment - hostile use of force||176||37%|
|Ill-treatment - emotional abuse||114||24%|
|Ill-treatment – neglect||68||14%|
|Misconduct of a sexual nature - crossing professional boundaries||67||14%|
|Misconduct of a sexual nature – Sexually explicit comments and other overtly sexual behaviour||16||4%|
|Ill-treatment - inappropriate restrictive intervention||15||3%|
|Offences against a person||8||2%|
|Sexual offences where a child is a victim or is present||6||1%|
|Misconduct of a sexual nature – grooming behaviour||3||1%|
Performance against service standards
Our focus in 2020–21 was managing the immediate risks associated with incoming notifications and monitoring current reportable conduct investigations by organisations.
Section 17G notifications
When the Office receives a new s 17G notification from an organisation about an allegation of reportable conduct, we assess the initial response by the organisation, including whether it has reported to other authorities, and its risk assessment and investigation plan. This allows the organisation to consider our feedback during its investigation. We aim to assess notifications within 7 calendar days in 80 per cent of cases.
In 2020–21, 83.7 per cent of notifications were assessed within the required timeframe (being 7 calendar days).
Section 17J final reports
When we receive a final report from an organisation following its investigation into reportable conduct allegations (s 17J report), we consider whether the allegation or conviction was properly investigated and appropriate action taken and whether we need further information from the organisation. This gives the organisation reasonable opportunity to act on our feedback or provide further information. We aim to complete this within 28 calendar days in 80 per cent of cases.
In 2020–21, 60.4 per cent were assessed within the required timeframe (being 28 calendar days).
We will continue to strive to meet these service standards – recognising the importance of providing timely consideration to organisations on assessments.
After notifying the ACT Ombudsman of a reportable conduct allegation, and on conclusion of its investigation, an organisation must provide the Ombudsman with the outcome of its inquiries and what action it takes as a result. Organisations are required to report on whether an allegation has been sustained or not sustained.
Figure 6 and Table 6 shows the outcomes for each allegation and the actions taken by organisations, as provided to us in reports finalised in 2020–21. 19
Figure 6: Outcomes reported by organisations—finalised investigations in 2020–21
Table 6: Actions taken by organisations—finalised in 2020–21 and percentage of all actions taken
|No action after the investigation process||167||35%|
|Performance monitoring or managing||67||14%|
|Letter of warning||25||5%|
|Other forms of disciplinary action as per employer||18||4%|
|A formal apology||1||0%|
Investigations and complaints
The Ombudsman may, on their own initiative or in response to a complaint, choose to investigate any reportable conduct allegation or conviction against an employee of an organisation considered under the Scheme. The Ombudsman may also investigate an organisation’s response to a reportable conduct allegation or conviction.
In 2020–21, the Office received 21 complaints about organisations’ handling of reportable conduct matters. Most were handled by contacting the relevant organisation and facilitating pathways for complainants to access internal processes or information.
19 A notification may contain multiple allegations, each having a finding and action recorded.
We also conducted one investigation under s 9 of the Ombudsman Act in response to a complaint about information sharing. It related to a delay by an agency responding to a request for information from another organisation to assist with a reportable conduct inquiry. During the investigation, the agency recognised the consequences of the delay and committed to substantial improvements. It then assigned dedicated responsibilities to a relevant area and developed practices and procedures to handle such requests in the future.
Our ‘Practice Guide No. 9 – How the Ombudsman Assesses an Employer’s Response/Investigation’ provides information to organisations about how the Office monitors an organisation’s practices and procedures for preventing reportable conduct and how organisations deal with reportable allegations and convictions.
As outlined in Practice Guide No. 9, we consider the following aspects of an organisation’s response:
- initial response
- information gathering
- employee response
- making a finding, and
- taking action.
We provide written feedback to organisations on the s 17J final reports provided to the Office under the Ombudsman Act. Where we identify systemic feedback concerns, we raise these at liaison meetings. Organisations are also invited to contact us for further discussion about feedback and we encourage organisations to revisit previous feedback provided when handling new matters.
During 2020–21, frequent feedback included, but was not limited to, addressing:
- providing procedural fairness to those involved in an investigation
- allegations needing to be clearly defined, clarified and recorded correctly before an investigation is conducted
- the articulation and mitigation of risk, based on a broad assessment, and
- understanding that reporting obligations under the Scheme may include allegations concerning an employee’s private life, where the conduct impacts on the employee’s behaviour in the workplace.
In 2020–21, we developed and tested a method to measure and track this feedback on our system. We will use this data to inform our engagement, such as emerging issues and trends in practices.
Through future practitioner forums we continue to focus on how we can better support organisations to implement our feedback and facilitate improvement, recognising that managing reporting obligations can be complex and time consuming. In the coming year, we intend to explore opportunities for building a stronger community of practice to support organisations.
Engagement activities are integral to our role of supporting organisations to build their capacity to prevent, report and respond to allegations of reportable conduct. In 2020–21, we conducted engagement activities, to the extent possible as COVID-19 restrictions were gradually lifted, maintaining engagement with organisations by telephone and video calls, and slowly reintroducing face-to-face meetings.
We hosted one practitioner forum in February 2021. The forum included a presentation from the National Office for Child Safety about its role, and specifically how to support children and young people to raise their concerns when they feel unsafe and related resources recently developed. The forum also provided an opportunity to focus on:
- the challenges organisations faced in responding to allegations of reportable conduct during the COVID-19 health emergency
- how organisations implement our case feedback and reflect on how we may better provide effective feedback, and
- discussion about information sharing and an introduction to our new practice guide – ‘Practice Guide No. 8 – Information Sharing and Reportable Conduct’.
We are planning how to deliver information sessions and provide information to organisations in different formats, such as online webinars. We are also reviewing and updating content for when we can resume face-to-face information sessions.
We published 2 newsletters, these included practice information on assessing allegations and providing procedural fairness to employees.
The focus of our engagement during 2020–21 was building on our existing relationships with organisations. This included facilitated feedback discussions with some organisations to help them better understand their obligations under the Scheme and develop a better understanding of what support we can provide. We maintained regular liaison with Access Canberra (for its Working with Vulnerable People registration), Barnardos, the Community Services Directorate (CSD), the Education Directorate, and the Public Advocate and Children and Young Person Commissioner.
Recently, we engaged with ACT Policing regarding implementing regular meetings with a designated officer to discuss the Scheme and the needs of organisations.
We attended 2 roundtable discussions with stakeholders – the first hosted by the Teacher Quality Institute and the second by the Office of the Senior Practitioner.
We continue to attend meetings with the Bimberi oversight group, convened by the CSD and the Children and Young People Oversight Agencies Group and convened by the Public Advocate and the Children and Young People Commissioner.
In December 2020, we published ‘Practice Guide No. 8 – Information Sharing and Reportable Conduct’ , following consultation with regulators, oversight agencies and organisations. The sharing of reportable conduct information between regulators and oversight agencies, ACT Policing, and organisations under the Scheme, is important for managing risks to child safety in the ACT.
During 2020–21, we continued to see organisations adopt a more pro-active approach to sharing information, which appears to reflect an increase in confidence about applying the legislative authorisations available to organisations to disclose information, should it be appropriate. Feedback from organisations also indicated that frequent information sharing has facilitated greater networking.
20ACT Ombudsman, ‘Practice Guide No. 8 – Information Sharing and Reportable Conduct’ https://www.ombudsman.act.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/112141/ACT-Ombudsman-Practice-Guide-No.-8-Information-Sharing-and-Reportable-Conduct.pdf
Community Engagement and Support
Community engagement is an essential part of our work and COVID-19 highlighted the importance of regular and up-to-date information being provided to our community stakeholders.
During 2020–21, we restarted in-person outreach to the Alexander Maconochie Centre (AMC). We visited the AMC 3 times during 2020–21 to meet with detainees and provide information about the role of the Office. These visits gave us an opportunity to hear about detainees’ concerns, not only about conditions at the AMC, but about their experience with other agencies. We continue to explore other avenues to provide information to detainees, which include information sessions to detainee delegates, along with the ACT Human Rights Commission. Staff at the Office also attended meetings with the ACT organisation, Prisoner’s Aid.
The Office is committed to promoting respectful relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. In November 2020, we attended the ACT Policing Chief Police Officer’s virtual Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Forum. We also participated in a one-day Aboriginal Cultural Awareness Program organised by the ACT Council of Social Services and staff are in regular contact with the Indigenous Official Visitor for the AMC. With the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, we hope to do more outreach to ACT Indigenous organisations and other community groups in 2021–22.
The Office appeared before the Standing Committee on Public Accounts in March 2021 for the Annual Report Hearing.
In addition, the Ombudsman met with the Justice and Community Safety Standing Committee in June 2021 to discuss the role and responsibilities of the Inspector of the Integrity Commission.
Financial Management Reporting
In 2020–21, the ACT Government paid a total of $3,053,652 to the Office to undertake its functions. The funding provided to the Office by the ACT Government was used on, and to support, functions provided to the ACT. Detailed financial statements for the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman, an Australian Public Service entity which currently performs the role of the ACT Ombudsman, are published in the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s Annual Report 2020–21.
In accordance with the Service Agreement between the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman and the ACT Government, the Office was provided with:
- $518,598 for ACT Ombudsman services, including complaint handling
- $583,054 to provide oversight in relation to ACT Policing
- $854,000 to perform functions under the Reportable Conduct Scheme
- $860,000 to implement and perform functions under the FOI Act
- $142,000 to perform functions as the principal officer to support the ACT Judicial Council, and
- $96,000 to implement and perform functions under the Inspector of the ACT Integrity Commission.
Note: All figures quoted above are exclusive of GST.