Enterprise level monitoring advised for commonwealth ombud’s office

By Melissa Coade

June 29, 2022

Michael Manthorpe
Commonwealth ombud Michael Manthorpe. (Image: Facebook/Ombudsman NZ)

The commonwealth entity responsible for handling complaints about Australian government agencies has accepted advice from the auditor-general to make changes to drive improvement. 

The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) has suggested that implementing enterprise-level monitoring and assurance frameworks will improve the work of the ombud’s office. The ombud, which finalised 72% of complaints in 2020-21, agreed to the recommendation.

The ombud’s office was established in the late 1970s with the statutory authority to act as an ‘independent intermediary’ for people who believe they have been treated unfairly by an Australian government entity. 

The ombud receives, assesses, and investigates complaints with two goals: firstly to deliver an ‘‘efficient, effective and accessible’ complaint handling service, and secondly to do this in a way that is effective and impartial.

In a new report published last week, the auditor-general said the office was ‘largely effective’ in managing the complaints it handled. The auditor-general also noted that its fit-for-purpose complaints-management arrangements meant parliamentary and industry complaints were effectively dealt with. 

“The office’s complaints process is accessible, clear and mostly responsive,” the ANAO said, also commending work to reduce access barriers for indigenous communities and people living with a disability.

The audit looked at the ombud’s complaints-management processes from 30 June 2018 to 1 July 2021.

The report said the resources relied on by the ombud to handle complaints effectively and efficiently included a better practice guide (based on the Australia/New Zealand Standard Guidelines for complaint management in organisations) and a complaint handling framework. 

“The communication of outcomes to complainants and the prioritisation of cases was not always in-line with the standard and better practice guide,” the auditor-general said of a document developed in 2009 and updated more recently.  

In terms of the entity’s internal review mechanisms, the ombud’s office recently moved to introduce processes to monitor the implementation and intended outcomes of action items arising from reviews and is conducting an enterprise-level quality-assurance framework review.

“Prior to this, the Office did not consistently monitor the implementation of review findings or measure the success of continuous improvement initiatives,” the report said.

Regular reviews were also conducted for the effectiveness and efficiency of the ombud’s parliamentary-complaints processes, with quality-assurance reports and agency-satisfaction information shared with the executive.

“The office’s surveys of complainant and agency satisfaction did not clearly identify the methodologies used to generate the surveys’ results,” the report added, further noting there were limited reviews of its industry complaints processes. 

The ombud’s official response to the ANAO report said the office was committed to influencing systemic improvement in public administration.

“The office is committed to continuous improvement and has already commenced work in response to this recommendation,” the statement said. 

“A review of our quality assurance mechanisms is currently underway and will inform the development of an enterprise framework to be implemented in the coming financial year.”


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