It’s a certain kind of success.
This year the Victorian Ombudsman received more complaints, investigations and enquiries than ever before.
New ways of working and engaging with the public sector have helped the office to deal with increasing demand, Ombudsman Deborah Glass said in the annual report released today.
A snapshot of the ombudsman’s work reveals:
- A record 40,642 people contacted the office in 2016-17, an increase of 1172 on the previous year.
- The office made more than 4600 formal enquiries — an increase of 54%.
- The office carried out 29 formal investigations, for which it can use royal commission-like powers.
- Two systemic investigations in the public interest were initiated by the ombudsman: to explore unfairness in the management of complex WorkSafe cases — an issue that the office will look into again next year — and the transparency of local council decision-making.
- The office considered 45 protected disclosures — commonly known as whistleblower matters — involving 114 allegations.
As in previous years, prisons, local councils and the Department of Health and Human Services attracted the most complaints, with the most common concerns being about failure to provide services, inadequate or delayed complaints handling and prison health services.
Glass is working to head off complains before they reach the ombudsman’s office where possible, introducing new processes to triage complaints and an early resolution team trained to speedily resolve matters, and launching an education pilot program to promote good complaints handling and best practice management of conflicts of interest in the public service.
“We created an Early Resolution Team seeking to resolve complaints in a timely way, where possible through a single contact. This work has been assisted by the recent legislative reform allowing my office, for the first time, to take complaints by phone,” Glass said.
“The education program has had promising results. Feedback from local councils indicates our work on good complaints handling is informing the development of more robust complaints management systems, which is reflected in a drop in complaints in this area.”
The ombudsman tabled 10 reports in parliament in the past year on matters as diverse as improper conduct, complaint-based investigations, youth justice and the barriers to making apologies in the public service.
Organisations that came under scrutiny included the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, where understaffing and poor processes were found to be causing distress to grieving families; the Mt Buller and Mt Stirling Resort management board, where some senior managers and a board member were found to have misused public funds and resort accommodation; and the MFB, where a senior manager employed two of her sons after they changed their names by deed poll and submitted falsified CVs.
Underscoring the office’s commitment to collaboration and human rights, the ombudsman worked with the Department of Justice and Regulation, the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission and IBAC to produce a guide for dealing with human rights complaints.
In another first, the office released a reconciliation action plan to promote engagement with Victoria’s First Peoples, noting the communities most likely to benefit from ombudsman services were often the least likely to engage.
“We continue to work with government on what is needed to create a modern legislative framework for the office, including an education function, extending our jurisdiction to include publicly funded services and financial independence,” Glass said.