Investigations up for Victorian OmbudsmanDate posted:
Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass completed 41 formal investigations – which can use Royal Commission-like powers – in the last financial year, an increase of 40 per cent on the previous year.
In her annual report released today, Ms Glass said it was encouraging that of the 119 recommendations she made to state and local government over the 12-month period, 98 per cent were accepted.
A snapshot of the Ombudsman’s work reveals:
- About 40,000 approaches were made to the office, about three per cent less than the record number last year, but a six per cent increase in complaints within the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction.
- Sixty protected disclosures (commonly known as whistleblower matters) were received, a 25 per cent increase compared with the previous year.
- The top three ‘most complained’ about authorities continued to be: Corrections, Justice and Regulation; local government; and Department of Health and Human Services. There was a 19 per cent increase in complaints about Corrections, Justice and Regulation compared with last year – due mostly to an increase in complaints about prisons, unsurprising given Victoria’s increased prisoner numbers.
Ms Glass noted two of her major investigations tabled in Parliament this year – into child sex offender Robert Whitehead’s involvement with Puffing Billy and into the ALP’s use of electorate officers before the 2014 state election – had been referred to her office by a department and Parliament respectively.
“It is pleasing that my office’s impartiality and investigative skills continue to be recognised in further referrals from Parliament,” Ms Glass said. “As my founding legislation makes clear, I am Parliament’s investigator, and I will continue to investigate and report without fear or favour.
“I hope to see referrals from Parliament about issues of concern across the public sector, other than the behaviour of our elected representatives, that may require my independence and Royal Commission powers.”
Ms Glass tabled 12 reports in Parliament on matters as diverse as the state’s readiness to implement a key United Nations treaty – the Optional Protocol for the Convention against Torture – in closed environments such as prisons and youth justice centres; a local council’s overcharging of a waste management levy; and a guide for the public sector on how to deal with challenging behaviour from the public.
Ms Glass said human rights and social justice were at the core of her office’s work.
“Being an independent officer of Parliament does not mean I am neutral. I am not neutral about human rights and social justice, and many of my public reports continue this theme,” Ms Glass said
“This year they included my investigations into school expulsions, unfair maintenance claims against public housing tenants, and the financial support provided to kinship carers,” she said.
“It is gratifying not only to see recommendations accepted, but tangible outcomes, including the payment of allowances or waiving of debts amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars to kinship carers, some of the neediest and most deserving people in our state.”
Ms Glass said her office had begun liaising regularly with Community Legal Centres, who provide legal advice to many disadvantaged Victorians and are well placed to let her office know of potential systemic issues.
“As a result, we investigated a local council’s handling of internal reviews of infringements incurred by disability permit holders, and on a broader level we are engaging with Fines Victoria, who are the subject of an escalating number of complaints,” she said.
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