1. Organisational overview
The Ombudsman's role and functions
The ACT Ombudsman's role is to resolve complaints and monitor the actions of government agencies and the police under the Ombudsman Act 1989 and other legislation.
The strategic vision for the Ombudsman's office (the office) is:
- to provide assurance that the Government entities and prescribed private sector organisations that the office oversights act with integrity and treat people fairly, and
- to influence enduring systemic improvement in public administration in Australia.
The Ombudsman can deal with most complaints involving the administrative actions of agencies and police, including requests made to them under the Freedom of Information Act 1989 and whistleblower disclosures under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2012.
The Ombudsman monitors police use of covert powers through inspections conducted under the Crimes (Controlled Operations) Act 2008, the Crimes (Assumed Identities) Act 20091 and the Crimes (Surveillance Devices) Act 2010.
The Ombudsman can investigate, however initially, the office encourages people to work through their concerns with agencies or police. The office does this by working with agencies and police to ensure they provide accessible and effective complaint-handling processes to the public.
When the Ombudsman does investigate, it is done independently and impartially. The aim in all cases is to resolve complaint disputes fairly and to help agencies improve their services.
Investigations are conducted in private and the Ombudsman has broad powers to access information held by agencies. The Ombudsman cannot compel agencies or police to follow its recommendations. If agencies or police do not act on recommendations or otherwise act unfairly, the Ombudsman can report to the relevant ministers, or release a public report on the matter.
The work of the office helps people access remedies. These range from better explanations for actions, through to decisions being reconsidered or actions expedited. Other remedies include apologies and changes to law, policy or practices that help others in the future.
By virtue of the transitional arrangements in place at the time of self-government, the Commonwealth Ombudsman is also the ACT Ombudsman. The ACT Ombudsman role is delivered by the Commonwealth Ombudsman under a Services Agreement between the ACT Government and the Commonwealth Ombudsman.
A Senior Assistant Ombudsman and a dedicated team has day-to-day responsibility for managing the relationship with directorates. The office's Operations area handles complaints about directorates and the office's National Assurance and Audit area is responsible for undertaking the office's inspections responsibilities.
Strategic engagement and performance
In 2015–16 the office held a forum with peak community and professional bodies to hear from them about their service-delivery experiences and expectations of government agencies and police—refer to Part M. The office will be using this information to reflect its priorities and to shape the conversations with directorates about community needs.
Through the Ombudsman's complaint work the office maintains an engagement with administrative decision-makers and those who deliver services to the public in the ACT Public Service (ACTPS). The office met with executive teams and business managers to discuss the role and the need to engage effectively with complainants before disputes are escalated to the Ombudsman.
The office expressed its interest in briefings from directorates and agencies on planned initiatives and policy changes that could foreseeably result in public approaches to make complaints.
The Ombudsman's office continues to offer expertise to directorates and agencies at the planning and design stage of new initiatives and in public communication campaigns. Through proactive engagement with the ACTPS, the office aims to ensure that public complaints are dealt with effectively and provide feedback for continuous improvement.
The office participated in the regular meetings of the Alexander Maconochie Centre Oversight Agencies Working Group convened by ACT Corrective Services. The oversight agencies have also convened a regular meeting, in which the office participates. These meetings are a way to share concerns or interests and to coordinate appropriate responses, if and as required.
As part of ongoing stakeholder engagement with ACT Policing, the office attended the Winchester Police Centre to meet with the Child Sex Offenders Registry team. This followed substantial amendments to the legislation for the ACT Child Sex Offender register, including the introduction of entry and search warrants for the purpose of verifying the personal information reported by child sex offenders. The new warrant regime falls under the Ombudsman's inspection jurisdiction, and the visit was used to discuss ACT Policing's plans for its implementation.
Outlook and priorities
Like other agencies, the role of this office will continue to evolve. As the ACT Government's activities and citizens' expectations of governments change, so must the Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman's office is pleased that the ACT Government has considered it for a new function; with the anticipated development of a Reportable Conduct scheme. In 2016–17 there will be considerable focus and energy on preparation for and successful delivery of this function.
The Reportable Conduct scheme is an employment-based child protection scheme. It supports institutions that provide services to children by obliging them to deal with allegations of certain inappropriate conduct by their employees. The scheme is based on a well-regarded model, which the NSW Ombudsman oversees in that state. The scheme was funded in the 2016–17 Budget. The office is continuing to work with the ACT Government in order to achieve the successful implementation of this important scheme, expected to be operational in July 2017.
The amended Crimes (Child Sex Offenders) Act 2005 expanded the office's monitoring role in relation to entry and search powers. The office has developed new methodologies to monitor ACT Policing's compliance with the new provisions, and is preparing for the additional inspections function that will increase the work associated with the annual inspection of the ACT Child Sex Offenders Register.
2. Performance analysis
The ACT Ombudsman role is delivered by the Commonwealth Ombudsman under a Services Agreement. Quarterly performance reports are provided to the Speaker and the Head of Service on complaints received and investigated.
Information about the office's complaints work is provided below. Information about the inspections work is provided at Part 4.
All public contact with the office is recorded as an approach. Not all approaches are complaints requiring further action. People may be seeking information on how to raise a concern with government agencies or police. Others are concerned about the actions of an entity or action not in the Ombudsman's jurisdiction.
The Ombudsman does not take further action on approaches when:
- the concern is resolved during that contact
- the person is referred to a more appropriate agency
- the office would be unable to access a better remedy by investigating
- the matter is or has been before a court or tribunal.
For approaches that are within jurisdiction and require further action, the office usually contacts the agency for further information and provides it with an opportunity to respond to the complaint. Often this contact is sufficient for the complaint to be resolved.
Remedies obtained by complainants may be at the initiative of agencies or suggested by the office. These may include the Ombudsman providing the complainant with a better explanation of what the agency or police did and why. The Ombudsman's community reputation for independence and impartiality often means complainants are more receptive to messages from this office than those of agencies or police about whom they have lodged a complaint. Through complaint contact, the office aims to rebuild trust in agencies and police in cases where their actions appear to have been fair and reasonable.
The Ombudsman uses complaints to encourage agencies to improve their administration and provide ACT residents with assurance about government actions. The office works constructively with agencies, including providing feedback on complaint policy or service delivery.
Summary of complaint statistics
In 2015–16 the Ombudsman received 568 approaches: 446 about directorates and 122 about police. In 2014–15 the Ombudsman received 590 approaches: 465 about directorates and 125 about police.
In 2015–16 directorates accounted for four per cent fewer approaches than in 2014–15. Police accounted for two per cent fewer approaches compared with the previous year.
In 2015–16 the office finalised 586 approaches: 459 about directorates and 127 about police. The Ombudsman investigated 91 approaches: 74 about directorates and 17 about police. In comparison, in 2014–15 the office finalised 603 approaches: 478 about directorates and 125 about police. The Ombudsman investigated 114 approaches: 100 about directorates and 14 about police.
Further details of the complaints received and finalised are at Appendix 1.
Figure 1: Approaches received about directorates (excluding ACT Policing), 2003–04 to 2015–16
Figure 2: Spread of approaches and complaints received about directorates and ACT Policing, 2015–16
In November 2015 the office delivered a training package to rangers from the Territory and Municipal Services Directorate, 'Getting it right the first time—undertaking sound, reasonable and lawful administration'. The purpose of the training was to provide practical knowledge reinforced through group discussions on the frameworks for administrative actions, applied to on-the-job situations. Two half-day courses were provided to a total of 35 officers. The course was well-received and all participants said they would recommend it to their colleagues.
The Ombudsman appeared before the Standing Committee on Public Accounts in November 2015 and the Select Committee on Estimates 2016–17 in June 2016. No recommendations were made to the Ombudsman in the reports of these Committee inquiries.
The report, Review of Auditor-General's Report No. 2 of 2016: Maintenance of Public Housing by the Standing Committee on Public Accounts in June 2016, made the following recommendation (#15) to the Ombudsman:
The Committee recommends that, where possible, the ACT Ombudsman give consideration to detailing in future annual reports a breakdown of complaints concerning public housing issues as received by the Office for the applicable reporting period.
The Ombudsman will consider how best to give effect to the Committee's recommendation in 2016–17.
1 No inspections have been conducted in this monitoring role as ACT Policing has advised that it has not applied any of the provisions under this Act.