Code of Conduct

Policy Statement

1. Victorian Public Sector Code of Conduct

This Code of Conduct should be read in conjunction with the Code of Conduct for Victorian Public Sector employees of special bodies which sets out the Victorian Public Sector values and the minimum requirements for Victorian public servants in special bodies. 
The Victorian Public Sector values are:
  • Responsiveness
  • Integrity
  • Impartiality
  • Accountability
  • Respect
  • Leadership
  • Commitment to human rights.
These values have been adopted in this Code of Conduct, which is tailored for the specific requirements of VO.
 
Scope
All VO staff are required to familiarise themselves with and follow this and all other VO policies as promulgated and amended from time to time.  Current VO policies are available on VO’s intranet site.
 

Responsibilities

2. Confidentiality

Under section 26A of the Ombudsman Act, an Ombudsman officer must not provide or disclose details of a complaint or whether a complaint has been received from anyone, except for the purposes of enquiring into or investigating such complaints (including correspondence with relevant government authorities) or for the purpose of performing any other duty or function under the Ombudsman Act. The Ombudsman may also wish to issue a confidentiality notice to restrict a person from disclosing information. See procedure on confidentiality notices for further information.
 
Information about complaints is not to be provided other than to the complainant or the respondent government agency unless the complainant has advised that he/she has authorised another nominated person to speak about the complaint. The enquirer is to be advised that the Ombudsman only deals with the person affected by the administrative action unless he considers that the representative is appropriate in the circumstances (section 14(1) of the Ombudsman Act).  Solicitors and Members of Parliament acting on behalf of complainants can be considered as representing the complainant and may be provided with any information that would be provided to the complainant. As a general rule however, staff should write to or speak direct with the complainant unless there is some specific reason why this is not possible. Under section 29A of the Ombudsman Act, documents or information relating to enquiries or investigations conducted by the Ombudsman and officers of the Ombudsman are exempted from the Freedom of Information Act 1982. Section 29(4) of the Ombudsman Act provides that neither the Ombudsman nor any of his officers can be called to give evidence in a court, judicial proceedings or Police Appeals Board regarding any matters coming to their knowledge in exercising functions under the Act. Documents relating to administrative functions of the Ombudsman’s office are subject to the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act such as internal policies and Parliamentary reports. 
 
Government authorities are to be advised that under section 17(2) of the Ombudsman Act, every investigation is conducted in private. Information given to them in the course of investigations (including correspondence and reports) is not to be disclosed to any person other than at the request of the Ombudsman, for the Ombudsman’s purposes or the purposes outlined in the Ombudsman Act, in order to protect the integrity of the investigation.. The Ombudsman may also have the option of issuing a confidentiality notice to a person in a Government authority to formally restrict their ability to disclose information.
 
All officers of the Ombudsman take an Oath or Affirmation agreeing to keep confidential all information obtained during the course of their duties. All external consultants engaged to work on a file or project within the office will also need to take an Oath or Affirmation, unless the Deputy Ombudsman or the Ombudsman determines otherwise. The Oath or Affirmation can only be administered by the Ombudsman or Acting Ombudsman. 
 

3. Fairness and Equity

All officers are required to treat members of the public and their colleagues politely, fairly, respectfully and equitably, regardless of race, religion, gender, ethnic or national origin, physical characteristics or disability. 
 
When making decisions, officers are expected to:
  • observe legal requirements
  • establish the facts
  • avoid improper exercise of powers
  • be both fair and prompt
  • avoid malice
  • appreciate the special needs of different groups and individuals.
Generally, officers are accountable for the services they provide to the public and government authorities and should observe the principles of natural justice in the conduct of all Ombudsman activities.
 
Natural justice (procedural fairness) is a legal requirement that applies to administrative decision-making.  It imposes a code of procedure to ensure that decision-making is fair and reasonable.  Whether a decision complies with natural justice depends not on whether the decision itself was fair and reasonable, but on whether a fair and proper procedure was followed in making the decision.
 

4. Use of Official Information

Officers are required to maintain the confidentiality, integrity and security of official information for which they are responsible.  The ‘need to know’ principle is to be observed at all times, however, information is not to be withheld from other employees who have a legitimate reason to access it.  Officers must not make improper use of information obtained during the course of their duties by using it to their own advantage or that of persons associated with them (see also 3 above and section 26A and 26B of the Ombudsman Act). 
 
Officers are required to protect the privacy of individuals in official dealings and should be familiar with the privacy principles as set down in the Privacy and Data Protection Act 2014.  In support of these principles the office maintains a clean desk policy.
 

5. Public Comment

Because of the secrecy provisions of the Ombudsman Act, public comment on complaint-related matters is not permitted, except by officers holding the specific delegation to do so.  The only persons authorised to provide information (to the media, for example) are the Ombudsman, the Deputy Ombudsman and the Communications Manager.
 
Public comment includes public speaking engagements, comments to the media, letters to the media, books, journal articles, notices and use of electronic communications media, such as facsimile machines, e-mail, internet etc. where it might reasonably be expected that the publication or circulation of the comment will spread to a wider audience, including the community at large. 
 
Officers must not make any inappropriate public comment. This includes:
  • instances where personal statements or opinions could be perceived to be official comments
  • criticism of the administration of the Ombudsman or the Ombudsman personally
  • expression of a negative opinion about the policies of the Ombudsman
  • personal criticism or comments on colleagues.
Generally, only publicly available information is to be used, such as the statistics and case studies presented in Annual Reports, when making public presentations for the purpose of informing people about the work of VO.  In some circumstances and subject to the approval of a Director, de-identified case studies may be used in external presentations and training sessions for agencies.
 
For the avoidance of doubt, officers must be aware that VO considers comments and postings using social media and other forms of electronic communication to be a public comment.   Please refer to VO’s Social Media and Electronic Communications policy for further information.
 

6. Contact with the media

All enquiries from the media seeking comments or interviews should be referred to the Communications Manager.  Staff should not express any views or comments on investigations, enquiries or policies of the Ombudsman to the media without express permission from the Ombudsman or Deputy Ombudsman.
 
Contact with complainants who are also journalists should be in accordance with policies and procedures relating to complaint handling.
 

7. Official Identification and Security Items

Identity badges and passes are issued where necessary to assist and identify officers in the performance of their duties.  VO identity badges and passes must only be used for the purposes of undertaking the functions of the office.  Staff must safely maintain identification badges and passes, keys and other security items.  Upon cessation of employment, all identifying items, including business cards, must be surrendered, and any loss must be reported immediately to the Assistant Director, Finance & Business Improvement.
 

8. Outside Employment

Under the provisions of section 12 of the Ombudsman Act, every officer of the Ombudsman, except the Ombudsman and the Acting Ombudsman, shall not, without the consent of the Ombudsman, engage in any paid employment outside the duties of his/her office or his/her duties at the Ombudsman’s office.
 
The Ombudsman and the Acting Ombudsman shall not, without the consent of the Governor in Council, engage in any remunerative employment outside the duties of his/her office . 
 
Officers may, however, engage in unpaid voluntary work which does not conflict with their work in the office.  If in doubt, officers should raise the issue with their manager in accordance with VO’s Conflict of Interest policy.
 

9. Post-separation employment

When officers leave the employment of VO, they must not use confidential information obtained during their employment to advantage their prospective employer or business or disadvantage the Victorian Government generally in its dealings with others. The Oath or Affirmation taken on the commencement of employment binds the employee to keep confidential any information received in the performance of his/her duties. This strict obligation does not lapse on the cessation of employment with the Ombudsman.
 

10. Breaches of Policy

Reporting of suspected breaches

Officers who believe that they or a colleague may have breached the Code of Conduct, should raise this issue with their manager. In the case of a colleague, an officer may wish to discuss the instance with the colleague before reporting it as a potential breach.  If an officer’s concerns relate to their line manager and they do not wish to raise it with him/her, officers should consider discussing it with another manager or director or can bring the issue to the attention of the Deputy Ombudsman or Ombudsman.  Officers may also wish to seek confidential advice without revealing particulars of the case from the Director, Corporate Services.
Officers can also raise any allegations of improper conduct and serious misconduct with the General Counsel or Deputy Ombudsman - refer to VO’s Serious Misconduct policy which is available on the intranet.
 

Investigation of suspected breaches

Alleged or suspected breaches of the Code of Conduct will be investigated in accordance with the principles of natural justice and with strict confidentiality.  It is imperative that all information regarding potential breaches of the Code of Conduct is kept confidential and disclosed only to employees with delegated authority for dealing with such matters.  However, it is appropriate for employees involved in investigating an alleged or suspected breach to seek advice and/or assistance from people with relevant expertise, so long as they maintain strict confidentiality about the particulars of the case.
 
The Deputy Ombudsman or Ombudsman determines who will conduct the investigation into the alleged or suspected breach.  However, serious breaches may be referred to an external body for investigation.  Prior to the commencement of the investigation, all investigating parties will declare any conflicts of interest in accordance with the Conflict of Interest Policy.  Where a conflict of interest is found to exist, an appropriate alternative employee will undertake the investigation.

Sanctions

Sanctions for breaches of conflicts of interest policies may include disciplinary action ranging from formal counselling to dismissal.  If a breach is found to have occurred, the investigating parties will recommend a course of action to the Deputy Ombudsman or Ombudsman.  The Deputy Ombudsman or Ombudsman will then consider the recommendations and determine the action to be taken.  The Deputy Ombudsman or Ombudsman is not bound by the recommendations of the investigating parties and may choose alternative action.
 
Some breaches of the Code of Conduct may be considered under the ‘Serious Misconduct’ policy.
 

11. Grievances relating to the application of the Code of Conduct policy

All grievances relating to the application of the Code of Conduct policy should be handled in accordance with VO’s Issue and Dispute Resolution policy which is available on the intranet.

Application

This policy applies to all employees of the Victorian Ombudsman, including seconded and casual officers and contractors.  It is the responsibility of all employees to familiarise themselves with the contents of this policy.  If there is any doubt as to the applicability of this policy to a situation or the appropriate course of action to be taken, employees should raise the matter with their manager. 

 

12. Resources

The legislative framework of this policy is contained in the following Victorian legislation:
 
Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006
Constitution Act 1975
Equal Opportunity Act 2010
Financial Management Act 1994
Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004
Ombudsman Act 1973
Public Administration Act 2004
Protected Disclosure Act 2012
Privacy and Data Protection Act 2014
 

13. Contact Details

For further information regarding this policy or for further assistance, please contact:
  • Assistant Ombudsman
  • Deputy Ombudsman
  • Director, Communication & Culture
  • Manager, Human Resources