Record demand for the Victorian Ombudsman's helpDate posted:
The Victorian Ombudsman has experienced unprecedented demand for its services with complaints to the office about public organisations reaching record highs.
Tabling her annual report in Parliament today, Ombudsman Deborah Glass said the decisions of public servants neglecting human rights in their decision-making led to many of the complaints.
Complaints to the office within its jurisdiction increased 12 per cent to more than 18,000 with data also revealing the Ombudsman’s geographical spread increasing.
“We have taken complaints from almost half of all Victorian postcodes,” Ms Glass said.
“We continued to provide a service to the public every working day. Unlike many other public services, our phone lines remained open all year, while online complaints increased.”
Local councils topped the list of most complained about public bodies; and complaints about community and public housing, Corrections, COVID-19 public health directions, Registry of Birth Deaths and Marriages and Fines Victoria were also common.
The Ombudsman received 2770 complaints about human rights breaches in 2020-21.
Ms Glass said human rights could not be ignored - especially during a global pandemic.
“We continue to remind public officials of the sometimes unwelcome truth that human rights still matter,” she said.
Undisclosed conflicts of interest continued to dominate the list of misconduct allegations.
“Some themes never change, and instances of poor behaviour by public officials continued to be investigated and exposed,” Ms Glass said.
The Ombudsman delivered impact across the state with several major investigations uncovering official failings and helping bring about systemic changes.
The investigation into the snap lockdown of 3,000 public housing residents found the decision breached human rights and led to greater safeguards put in place for residents.
“While the government did not accept my recommendation that it apologise to those people, I was pleased to see a very different response to a COVID-19 outbreak in the public housing towers a year later. Actions do indeed speak louder than words,” she said.
Following the Ombudsman’s investigation into how the Business Support Fund was administered, more than 10,000 business owners who were denied the $10,000 grant were invited to reapply. Later grant schemes have not resulted in similarly large numbers of complaints.
Ms Glass said her staff had, despite dealing with their own challenges as a result of the pandemic, remained dedicated to the work of the office to deliver fairness for Victorians and to hold public servants accountable.
“My budget itself received a modest uplift this year, although not the full amount I had requested of the government,” she said.
“I am pleased I have received the Treasurer’s commitment to make up the shortfall, to allow me to do the job expected of me by Parliament and the public.”
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