Commonwealth Ombud to step down in July

By Melissa Coade

Wednesday May 26, 2021

Michael Manthorpe
Michael Manthorpe (Image: Facebook/Ombudsman NZ)

Michael Manthorpe has called time on his 37-year career in public service, announcing that he will be retiring from his role leading the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman at the end of July.

The senior mandarin informed staff on Wednesday of his decision to retire, and said that from August deputy ombud Penny McKay would serve in his place until a successor was officially appointed. The commonwealth ombud is usually appointed for a five-year term to oversee immigration, law enforcement, postal services, Defence, private health insurance and a variety of other matters, as well as general Australian government administration.

Manthorpe was recently interviewed by The Mandarin about the role of his office and the expanding responsibilities he has been given during his tenure. He said that his wish was for the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman to be as ‘active, relevant and useful’ to stakeholders — including the public at large — as possible. 

If we can be active, relevant and useful to the people who contact us, to people we oversee, and to the parliament that makes the laws that we then test the administration, then we’re going alright,” Manthorpe said. 

The office was actively reviewing its performance against KPIs in these three areas to ensure it was always improving, he added. 

This included an annual survey of members of the public who have contacted the office to lodge a complaint (sometimes the ombud cannot assist these individuals and refers them on to other agencies, or suggests alternative avenues for their issues to be addressed). Manthorpe said that the latest survey of this cohort of complainants found that two thirds of people reported their experience with the office had been ‘respectful and satisfactory’. 

By and large, the people getting in touch with us seeking help, we want to feel like we did what we could to help — we might have got a better outcome for them, or at least we helped explain why we couldn’t get them a better outcome,” Manthorpe said.

“Talking to other ombuds around the country, when you consider that there’s a bunch of people that you can’t help much, and when you consider that everyone (by definition) who comes to us is unhappy, if we can get to a place where two thirds feel like we independently, impartially and respectfully gave them what we could, then I think that that’s something like a reasonable score.”

The other two measures of success for the ombud’s office involves a two-year health check of its relationship and engagement with the agencies it oversees, and an assessment of the perceived value of the office to the commonwealth parliament and ACT legislative assembly against the number of times the ombud is invited to either make a submission or appear before a committee. 

“I think if we can feel confident that we are achieving something in those three domains, then we are probably on the right track. Getting feedback about how we are perceived and how we are going is [a useful measure of success],” Manthorpe said.

Commenting on the relationship that his office had with the 20 government entities it oversees — among them the NDIS, Home Affairs, Centrelink, Defence and the Australian Federal Police, Manthorpe said a recent report based on interviews with public servants about their dealings with his team was also affirming of their good work. 

“We got a really good score on that the most recent time that we did it and I hope that that is sustained — around people seeing that on one hand we are independent and impartial but on the other hand we are trying to be constructive and they are prepared to continue to engage with us,” he said. 

 


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