Meaningful change sought, not ticking the box

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A public apology to victims of a child sex offender, increased funding for State Trustees, and promises to reform the WorkSafe system so it delivers fairer outcomes for long-term injured workers.

These are some of the actions that have flowed from recommendations made by Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass over the past two years.

Ms Glass has tabled in the Victorian Parliament her third biennial report on the implementation of her recommendations .

Her report covers 109 recommendations she made to state and local government bodies between 1 April 2018 and 31 March 2020. The vast majority (98%) of her recommendations were accepted by the relevant body, with 41 implemented in full and 63 in progress.

Her recommendations span four key areas:

  • protecting human rights
  • dealing with improper conduct
  • improving public administration and
  • serving as an independent commissioner for administrative investigations.

Some of the most important recommendations actioned include:

Public apology made in the Victorian Parliament - November 2019

“For decades, the management of Puffing Billy and other entities had turned a blind eye to this life-long offender, to protect his reputation and that of the railway,” Ms Glass said.

“His young victims had to seek justice for themselves, or worse, suffered in silence, afraid they would not be believed. Some of those victims, no longer young, sat in the Parliament gallery near me. The intense silence as we witnessed the apology was palpable. Both the pain and the relief on people’s faces was visible.”

Reform and increased funding - State Trustees

In 2019, Ms Glass found State Trustees had failed some of Victoria’s most vulnerable people. In line with her recommendations, State Trustees is undergoing structural and cultural reform, and government funding has increased.

“Encouragingly, those who deal regularly with State Trustees, such as Financial Counsellors Victoria and the Public Advocate, have confirmed to us the improvements are real. And the Treasurer announced a funding boost for State Trustees, which the CEO advised would not have happened but for the Ombudsman’s report,” Ms Glass said.

Major systemic reform - WorkSafe

Ms Glass had cause to investigate WorkSafe for a second time, after finding in 2016 systemic unfairness in agents’ handling of claims by long-term injured workers. Her 2019 investigation confirmed “the failings identified in my first investigation had not been fixed, despite the acceptance of my recommendations.

“This time, my recommendations have focussed on major systemic reform. I am heartened by the Attorney-General’s stated commitment to achieving change and WorkSafe’s pledge - much more robust than last time - to address the issues within its responsibility. Real system reform will take time, but WorkSafe’s initial actions are encouraging.”

“Formal investigations are not always necessary to achieve change; I have also reported on VicRoads and Fines Victoria to address the problems evident in patterns of complaints.

"In these reports we worked with the agency, bringing systemic themes to their attention and documenting their responses, and we keep them under review through monitoring further complaints.”

Ms Glass said she would continue to monitor the implementation and effectiveness of the recommendations she had made across the 17 reports over the past two years.

“An unenthusiastic response to an Ombudsman report without an acknowledgement of failings or desire to tackle them means the issue simply does not go away. We can all tell the difference between an authentic response and where the box is merely being ticked.

“Memo to box tickers: the problems will not go away, and it is in the community’s and your own interests to fix them. And until then, the Ombudsman will stay on your case," Ms Glass said.

She said it was disappointing the Victorian Government had not yet responded to one of her recommendations - that it designate an independent, empowered and resourced local body to undertake inspections of places of detention against the standards of the United Nations OPCAT human rights treaty.

She has undertaken two investigations using OPCAT standards, including one in 2019 which found children and young people in detention were being damaged through excessive use of isolation and separation.

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