Increase in complaints shows continuing relevance of Ombudsman office to Victorians

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Complaints to the Victorian Ombudsman increased by 14% over the past year, while the number of protected disclosure (whistleblower) matters looked into has tripled since 2015.

Tabling her 2018-19 Annual Report in Parliament today, Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass said she continued to use the powers of her office to ensure fairness for Victorians in their dealings with government organisations.

“Complaints to my office continue to rise, up 14% this year, which is a good thing," Ms Glass said.

"More people have heard of the Ombudsman, we can help more Victorians, and we can do more to draw on the patterns of complaints to improve public administration."

Her office’s 2018-19 work was in keeping with Ms Glass’s priority of staying relevant to the issues affecting Victorians, for example:

  • dealing with systemic issues and improvements needed at Fines Victoria , VicRoads and Ambulance Victoria
  • exposing major failings at State Trustees, resulting in an overhaul of the agency’s operations
  • identifying a spike in complaints about the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages and Solar Victoria, and encouraging those agencies to address them promptly.

“In all these cases I welcome the collaborative response of the agencies," Ms Glass said.

"It can be confronting to be subject to an Ombudsman investigation, and it is essential to recognise that improvements in public administration will only be meaningful if embraced by the agencies themselves."

In 2018-19, 89 protected disclosure (whistleblower complaints) were referred by IBAC to the Ombudsman for investigation, up 300% since 2015.

“Whistleblower complaints that result in investigations are all too often on familiar themes such as nepotism and misuse of public funds,” Ms Glass said.

In 2018-19, she tabled in Parliament two reports resulting from protected disclosure complaints: one about a former school principal and the other about a former managing director of a water board.

Ms Glass said human rights, and social justice for the most disadvantaged, continue to be core themes of her office.

“This year I reported on the shocking case of a woman found unfit to stand trial who spent over 18 months isolated in prison because there was nowhere else to go,” Ms Glass said.

“Human rights also continue to be at the forefront of my work to support the implementation of the UN’s Optical Protocol to the Convention Against Torture.

"We worked with both government and non-government partners to investigate the experience of children and young people in solitary confinement within the Victorian justice system.”

Ms Glass also welcomed the new functions bestowed on her office early this year, including the modernisation of her Act and budget independence from July 2020. She warned however that an independent office needs to be appropriately funded.

“Integrity agencies should be above, and seen to be above, the politics of the day; being funded to do the job expected by Parliament should not be a matter for annual negotiation.

"New powers without funding would make a meaningless gesture of an important principle.”

A snapshot of the Ombudsman’s 2018-19 work reveals:

  • 17,324 complaints (matters that we had the jurisdiction to deal with) were received, up 14% on last year.
  • Overall, 43,246 approaches were made to the office, up 9%. Where we don’t have the jurisdiction to deal with a matter, we refer people to the relevant authority.
  • The top three ‘most complained’ about authorities continued to be: Corrections, Justice and Regulation (which includes prisons and Fines Victoria); Local Government; and Health and Human Services.

The Annual Report includes 17 case studies, providing a sample of the complaints Victorians raised with our office, covering local government, human rights, youth justice and more.

Read the report here: Annual Report 2019

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