Ombudsman's Quarterly Update | August 2021

Date posted:


Spring is approaching, but the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage around us, affecting us all in ways large and small. But while our physical office remains closed, we are busier than ever. Our phone line and online complaint form remain open, as we do our best to help hundreds of Victorians every day.

We continue to receive complaints on many and varied matters, including grant schemes and delays. We’ve also seen a spike in complaints from people seeking official documents from the Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages, and are in regular contact with them and other agencies to resolve individual complaints and improve the service they provide to the public.

We’ve begun a new investigation, into the Environment Protection Authority’s approval of spoil location sites for the West Gate Tunnel project . This has been the subject of much community concern, and complaints to my office. The community deserves to know if correct processes were followed when it came to deciding where tonnes of spoil could be disposed of, especially given the proximity to homes.

Other reports have been completed – with my latest report to be tabled in Parliament perhaps particularly timely. The Ombudsman for Human Rights: a Casebook is a snapshot of the 3000 human rights complaints that came into my office in the last year, many of them relating to the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on the rights and freedoms we used to take for granted.

These cases illustrate our rights in a pandemic, where lockdowns, border closures and compulsory mask-wearing restrict our freedoms of movement and expression, with those rights must be balanced against our own – and others’ – health and wellbeing and right to life. They show how the act of considering human rights is no more or less than putting people at the heart of decision-making – and that even during a global pandemic, human rights cannot be ignored.

In that context it was good to see a very different government response to an outbreak of COVID-19 last month in a public housing tower to the response a year before, which I found to be a breach of the residents’ human rights . While the residents are still waiting for the apology I recommended, actions do indeed speak louder than words.