2014 Annual ReportDate posted:
Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass tabled her Office’s Annual Report for 2013-14 in Parliament today.
In her foreword, Ms Glass acknowledged that the report covers the last nine months of George Brouwer’s term as Ombudsman, and the first three months of her own.
In addition, she marks the 40th anniversary of the Office, reflecting on the contribution of her predecessors and the continuing relevance of the function.
"The role of the Ombudsman is fundamentally to redress the imbalance of power between the individual and the state," Ms Glass said.
"It’s a free, fair and independent service for people who are dissatisfied with the actions - or inaction - of public bodies, holding the state accountable for its decisions and actions," she said.
Over the 2013-14 year, the Office received over 34,000 approaches, a 12.6 per cent increase on the previous 12 months.
"This number represents a significant statement of public dissatisfaction," Ms Glass said.
"But it’s also an opportunity to improve public administration in Victoria."
Ms Glass identified a number of areas for reform and updating the functions of the Ombudsman.
"I want Victorians to clearly understand what this Office can do for them and what it cannot.
"I want to make it easier for people to complain, and for their complaints to be resolved.
"Communication is essential to improving awareness and simplifying the process for all concerned, particularly the most vulnerable people in our society who all too often have the greatest need for services but the least knowledge."
Ms Glass also noted the need to update the way complaints are lodged.
"Eighty percent of contacts to the Office were made by phone this year, but there is a legislated requirement to put complaints in writing," she said.
"This means hundreds of complaints were not addressed.
"People have a reasonable expectation that public services, including this office, should be accessible and responsive."
Ms Glass welcomed the creation of the Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC) as providing an opportunity to refocus the work of the Ombudsman.
"Corruption is the business of IBAC and fairness is mine," Ms Glass said.
However there is a need for legislative amendments to clarify the relationship.
"The vital but limited investigative capacity of my Office is being disproportionately spent on looking into protected disclosures, or whistleblower complaints.
"This is an unintended consequence of the IBAC legislation which limits the capacity of my Office to focus on the issues that most affect the public.
"I urge Parliament to make these changes which will improve the service my office provides to the people of Victoria."