Waka Tangata: APOR E-news (December 2023)
Wominjeka | Welcome to this edition of Waka Tangata
Wominjeka from Melbourne, where despite the persistent crisp southern air spring has come and gone and the days are getting warmer as summer begins.
This edition showcases an impressive range of activity across our region. A few highlights:
- The Governor of South Australia has appointed a new Ombudsman, Emily Strickland to the Office of Ombudsman for South Australia. Emily Strickland will commence on 1 January 2024 after Ombudsman Wayne Lines retires at the end of this year.
- The Parliament of Tonga appointed a new Ombudsman, ‘Alisi Taumoepeau, KC. ‘Alisi Taumoepeau became effective in her new role on 1 July 2023.
- The New Zealand Ombudsman published Kia Whaitake | Making a Difference: Investigation into Ara Poutama Aotearoa | Department of Corrections following his investigation into how the Department has responded to calls for improvements to the way prisoners are treated.
- “Hong Kong Needs a Clear Mirror” is the latest publicity campaign for the Hong Kong Ombudsman which includes street advertising and social media initiatives.
- The Australian Commonwealth Ombudsman released the inaugural Room for improvement: observations from the Ombudsman, a ‘what works’ approach for agencies in the essential areas of compliance, complaints and communication.
- The New South Wales published their third report on outstanding actions to improve the response to children presenting alone to homelessness services.
It was my absolute pleasure to welcome so many colleagues to Melbourne at the end of October for our APOR Conference and 35th annual Members’ meeting. The conference, themed ‘Through the Ombudsman Looking Glass: Now And Into The Future’ included panel sessions on the role of an Ombudsman in a crisis, whether the public still cares about integrity, the balance an Ombudsman must strike when exercising powers and the impact of emerging technologies. It was wonderful to come with purpose to share and learn from each other, and I thank all for their contributions.
The week also coincided with celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of my office. Fifty is a fine age for a person – I vaguely recall it – and even better for an institution. In Victoria it means you’ve survived 14 governments. To keep that in perspective though, I must acknowledge Aboriginal Victorians have been on these lands for at least 40,000 years.
At our Members’ meeting on 1 November, I was particularly proud we were able to issue our second APOR Communiqué, not only for the lightning speed with which we reached a consensus, but also for highlighting the importance of an Ombudsman supporting the rights of First Nations and Indigenous people.
I am delighted to congratulate Niki Rattle on her appointments as Director and APOR Regional President – positions she will commence at the next IOI Board meetings in May. While relatively new to the Ombudsman world, Niki has an impressive professional background including as Secretary General of Red Cross Cook Islands and Speaker of the Cook Islands Parliament; I am sure the IOI and APOR will be well served by Niki’s passion and vision for fostering collaboration and capacity building among her peers.
Finally, as my 10-year term ends in March 2024, this may well be my final editorial for Waka Tangata, so let me also take this opportunity to sincerely thank the International Team from the New Zealand Ombudsman’s Office for the assistance provided during my Regional Presidency. You are a true asset to your region, and I know President-elect Rattle will value your support as much as I have.
APOR Regional President
Victorian Ombudsman, Australia
Control Yuan President Chen (8th from left) and members inspect Ministry of Health and Welfare Hospital, 2 November 2023
Focus on health care investigations
Control Yuan (CY) President Chu Chen and Control Yuan members recently conducted an inspection of Taipei Veterans General Hospital Yuli Branch, focusing on rehabilitation for chronic mental illness. The visit also included an assessment on the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s Yuli Hospital, specifically regarding the treatment of political victims and the “Trauma Healing and Recovery for Political Victims and Their Families” programme.
Committee Convenor Yu-Jung Lin highlighted the CY’s involvement in 23 mental healthcare investigations in the past three years. These covered the protection of the rights of severely mentally ill individuals in correctional facilities, the adequacy of transitioning guardianship to community-based mental care, community integration and independent living for individuals with emotional and behavioral disorders, and the implementation of telepsychology counselling by psychologists.
Need for national-level strategy for disabilities highlighted
In August, the Committee approved a research initiative on “Supporting Measures for the Deinstitutionalisation of Welfare Services for the Disabled.” The findings recommended that the Executive Yuan should follow the concluding observations of the second national report on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). It highlighted the need to establish a national-level strategy for disabilities, as well as improved supporting measures to achieve the goal of deinstitutionalisation.
Ombudsman of Hong Kong
Promotion and awareness raising
With the COVID-19 pandemic behind us, the Hong Kong Ombudsman has relaunched “Hong Kong Needs a Clear Mirror” a publicity campaign which includes street advertising and social media initiatives. This theme is inspired by the Chinese proverb “a bright mirror hung high”, which implies “a fair trial by a just official”. The next piece of work will be to increase awareness of the Ombudsman’s work among teenagers as part of a youth contest. The annual Ombudsman’s Awards and regular outreach talks to schools continued to generate attention.
“Hong Kong Needs a Clear Mirror” publicity campaign visuals.
Investigations and reports
During the period (May – Nov 2023), the following investigations and reports generated wide public attention and feedback:
- Transport Department's arrangements for driving tests
- Enforcement by Planning Department and Lands Department against unauthorised land developments
- Government websites and social media accounts
- Handling of complaints involving trees on government land
- Housing Department’s Arrangements for Housing for Senior Citizens and Converted One-person Units report
- Pilot Scheme on Community Care Service Voucher for the Elderly report
- Government’s Enforcement against Defective Sewage Works of New Territories Exempted Houses report
Ombudsman New Zealand
Reflecting on the role of the Ombudsman in a crisis
Recently at the Australasian and Pacific Ombudsman Region (APOR) conference, Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier led a panel on ‘Reflecting on the role of the Ombudsman in a Crisis’. He spoke about his extreme weather programme – a series of engagement visits to regions in the North Island of New Zealand severely impacted by Cyclone Gabrielle and several other storms at the start of this year. Mr Boshier talked about how these visits have helped inform his office about how to support people with complaints in the aftermath of weather events. A report on the Chief Ombudsman’s observations will be published in December 2023.
Celebrating milestones and record breaking demand for Ombudsman services
The latest Annual Report for the Ombudsman New Zealand has been released and it has found that in the 60th year of the Ombudsman New Zealand role, and the 40th anniversary of the Official Information legislation in New Zealand, the office received a record-breaking 6,012 Ombudsman Act and Official information complaints which is the second highest in the office’s history. The office was able to complete 96% of these complaints.
The office has completed several self-initiated investigations and final opinions.
The report Kia Whaitake | Making a Difference: Investigation into Ara Poutama Aotearoa | Department of Corrections followed the self-initiated investigation into how Ara Poutama Aotearoa | the Department of Corrections has responded to repeated calls for improvements in the way prisoners are treated, the same issues coming up time and time again in prisons. The Chief Ombudsman started this investigation to find out whether there are deeper issues affecting the Department’s ability to make the changes that his office and other oversight agencies have been calling for. The findings will help forge a path towards better outcomes for prisoners.
The report Open for Business published findings from an Ombudsman-initiated investigation into whether councils are using workshops and other informal meetings to make decisions. No evidence was found that actual decisions were being made in workshops, but practices that were counter to the principles of openness were found. Overall, there was a willingness from the councils investigated to change practices.
The New Zealand Office of the Ombudsman’s recent international engagement have included visits to Australia, Samoa, Indonesia, and Timor-Leste, strengthening collaboration and shared values.
New Ombudsman appointed
Parliament appointed a new Ombudsman, Mrs. ‘Alisi Taumoepeau, King’s Council, during this year. The Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Tonga, Lord Fakafanua, appointed Mrs. ‘Alisi Taumoepeau and who became effective in the role of Ombudsman of Tonga on the 1st July 2023.
Mrs. Taumoepeau comes to this role with a wealth of experience. She was the former Chief Executive Officer and Interim Ombudsman prior to her five-year appointment. She has served 26 years in the public service, as Solicitor General and Attorney General, as well as Minister of Justice. With more than 40 years in the legal profession, Mrs. Taumoepeau currently serves as a King’s Counsel (KC). She has also served as the Acting Chief Justice of Tonga and has been recognised for her services to the church and the government, in Tonga and abroad.
Mrs. Taumoepeau replaces Mr. ‘Aisea Taumoepeau, Senior Counsel, who retired from the post on 18th February, 2023, after 10 years of service.
Te Mato Akamoeau - Ombudsman Cook Islands
On 20 November the Ombudsman Cook Islands took a significant step towards inclusivity and equal access to justice, with the official opening of the new Te Mata Akamoeau Ombudsman Office. This provides a welcoming space for everyone, including people with disabilities.
The Ombudsman, Niki Rattle, said she was “absolutely happy” with their new premises as their previous office was difficult for some people to access it. Ms Rattle expressed gratitude to those involved in preparing the new premises as well as her family for their support.
She said anyone in the community seeking assistance from the Ombudsman’s office would find it easy to find and visit.
The special blessing and opening of the new office coincided with the World Ombudsman Day which had the theme of diversity and service.
Ofisa o le Komesina Sulufaiga - Ombudsman Samoa
The Ombudsman Samoa has been focussed on providing community services, attending online forums, and meetings abroad. Staff from the office have travelled abroad to Manila in the Philippines; New Delhi in India; and Nukualofa in the Kingdom of Tonga.
Ombudsman Samoa staff have also met with human resource staff from the New Zealand Ombudsman office to support capacity building. The main objective was to support the Samoa Office’s statutory mandate by helping with human resource role alignment, clarity and responsibilities. A report will developed to support implementation of the findings.
Humans Rights awareness
In its mid-year Human Rights Training for youth, the Ombudsman Samoa team promoted the role and functions of the Ombudsman, rights awareness, and helped participants understand how they can advocate for change for issues they have identified.
Ombudsman Samoa participated in a workshop in Manila on the Human Rights of Older Persons, held on 29-30 August 2023. This concluded with the adoption of the Call to Action on strengthening the advocacy of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) in the Asia-Pacific region for an international Framework to promote and protect the Human Rights of older persons.
Ombudsman of the Solomon Islands
A real effort to engage public officers in the ‘Good decision-making process’ training has been a key highlight in a busy year for the Solomon Islands Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman, Mr Fred Fakarii said it was gratifying that the Institution of Public Administration and Management (IPAM) could see the importance of the training and made it part of their facilitated courses for public servants.
The Ombudsman remarked that some decisions although seem small and insignificant have the potential to affect someone’s life. It is vital to understand the source of authority entrusted with decision-makers, and the scope and limits to which to make a decision.
The initiative was described by the Secretary to Cabinet (STC) Mr Nego Sisiolo, as “a proactive approach to cutting the costs of bad decision in the public office.”
Mr Sisiolo also said that by eliminating bad decisions in public offices, it is a demonstration of mature organisational leadership that values and respects people as important contributors to nation building. Mr Sisiolo also noted that public officers are stewards of public trust.
Various government agencies and bodies have been trained in the good decision-making process so far. The Ombudsman will continue the training with more government ministries and agencies in the future, after recommendation shows 100% support for the training to continue.
Good decision-making training with the first group of Permanent secretaries and Commissioners on the 14th August 2023 at the Heritage Park Hotel Honiara.
Commonwealth Ombudsman, Australia
Publications and insights
In the year 2022-23, the Australian Commonwealth Ombudsman achieved significant milestones publishing 11 fact sheets and better practice guides, along with 20 public reports and six investigation reports. The inaugural release of Room for improvement: observations from the Ombudsman was highly successful and was well received.
The last financial year saw this Office receive and handle 22,684 complaints. Centrelink was the most complained about Department, followed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Department of Home Affairs, National Disability Insurance Agency and Child Support – which sits within Services Australia.
Complaints to the Office as the Postal Industry Ombudsman remained high. The Office experienced a 28% increase in complaints from international students. We received a 10% decrease in complaints about the VET FEE-HELP and VET Student Loans programs. Over 1,000 of our assessments were tabled in parliament concerning people who have been in immigration detention for 2 years or more.
The Office continued work on assessing complaints of serious abuse in the Australian Defence Force (ADF), reports eligible to be assessed for a potential reparations payment could be submitted until 30 June 2023. In June 2023, 558 reports were received which is the highest number of reports received in any single month since the scheme commenced in 2016.
The work to oversee Commonwealth, state and territory law enforcement and integrity agencies’ use of certain covert and intrusive powers continued, with 100 agency inspections completed and 11 reports published.
Since Australia ratified OPCAT (Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment) the Office, as the Commonwealth National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) Coordinator, have been actively seeking to bring together the different NPM entities around Australia to align with global efforts to prevent torture and promote humane treatment.
As part of the Office’s international engagement role, funding has enabled continued capacity building work with the Ombudsman Republik Indonesia (ORI).
New South Wales Ombudsman
Report on outstanding actions to improve the response to children presenting alone to homelessness services
In May 2023, the NSW Ombudsman tabled its third report since 2018 on the responses to children aged 12–15 who present alone — without a parent or guardian — to specialist homelessness services.
Our report acknowledged positive action by the NSW department responsible for the welfare of homeless children in some areas, but also found a lack of progress with other recommendations we made, such as improving data collection and monitoring responses and outcomes for unaccompanied homeless children.
New whistleblower scheme
The Public Interest Disclosures Act 2022 (NSW) commenced on 1 October 2023. The new public interest disclosures (PID) scheme creates additional roles and responsibilities for NSW public officials and agencies.
As the lead oversight agency for the PID scheme, we have a role in providing information, advice and training to help agencies and public officials navigate the Act. We published a range of guidance materials and resources for agencies and public officials on the new PID Act on our website.
13th National Investigations Symposium
On 24–25 May 2023, we co-hosted the 13th National Investigations Symposium with the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption and the NSW Chapter of the Institute of Public Administration Australia. The symposium was held to enhance the skills and knowledge of investigators, complaint handlers, auditors and senior public sector officials. The symposium was well attended by representatives from over 180 local, state and federal public sector agencies as well as community and private organisations.
Our executives presented on the NSW PID scheme and investigating automated decision-making.
Photo captions: NSWO executives speaking at the 13th National Investigations Symposium. From left to right: Louise Lazzarino, Deputy Ombudsman, Systems Oversight, Paul Miller PSM, Ombudsman, Helen Wodak, Deputy Ombudsman, Monitoring and Review.
Recent publications and reports
- NSW Ombudsman Annual Report 2022-23
- Formal investigations — summary report 2022–23: A summary of completed investigations under section 13 of the Ombudsman Act 1974 for the period from 1 October 2022 to 30 September 2023
- NSW Child Death Review Team Annual Report 2022-23
- More than shelter — outstanding actions to improve the response to children presenting alone to homelessness services
- Avoiding pitfalls when agencies and public servants use social media - NSW Ombudsman
Ombudsman Northern Territory
Over the past year, the Ombudsman Northern Territory (NT) reported on several important matters, such as the challenges faced by agencies in delivering services within limited budgets, the need for reform in correctional services and victim assistance, the benefits of seeking external advice in some cases, two investigative reports on Northern Territory Police use of spit hoods, restraint chairs and body worn video cameras, and the progress in implementing OPCAT.
The number of approaches decreased to 2,155, mainly due to fewer COVID-19-related complaints and police conduct complaints. The Office finalised 2,199 approaches, leaving 109 open at the end of the year. The timeliness of finalisations was reasonable, except for police conduct complaints which were affected by the closure of many old cases. Oversight of police conduct complaints is a major part of the Ombudsman function.
The Ombudsman NT also undertook a number of functions during the year aimed at promoting better government, including:
- contributing to NT Government policy development by providing input on a range of policy and legislative matters for consideration by Government and serving on the Northern Territory Law Reform Committee;
- working co-operatively with other Northern Territory integrity and complaint bodies;
- undertaking or contributing to training activities and presentations for public sector staff and a variety of community and stakeholder engagement.’
Ombudsman South Australia
Ombudsman Lines tabled his final annual report and announced his retirement on 31 December 2023 after serving as the State’s independent watchdog for nine years.
The report reflects on the work of the Office in 2022-23, which was marked by several challenges and achievements, such as:
- Dealing with a surge of complaints and reports arising from the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions and the changes to the Ombudsman Act in October 2021, which expanded the jurisdiction of the Office to include misconduct and maladministration in public administration.
- Completing a record number of complaints and Freedom of Information external reviews, as well as taking in a record number of misconduct and maladministration complaints and reports.
- Reducing the backlog of cases that accumulated over the last two years and ensuring that all current cases are within reasonable time frames.
- Developing and conducting an educational programme to prevent or minimise misconduct and maladministration in public administration, with the aim of improving public sector standards and accountability. The programme requires further resource with the goal of being available in different formats.
Ombudsman Lines thanked his staff for their hard work and professionalism and expressed his gratitude to the parliament for entrusting him with this important Office, and said that it was an honour to serve as the State’s Ombudsman.
Ombudsman Western Australia
Key achievements for the Western Australian Ombudsman in the recent year were:
- The office achieved a 100% acceptance rate for its recommendations for the sixteenth consecutive year. The office finalised 96% of complaints within 3 months and reduced the age of complaints from 173 days in 2007 to 37 days in 2022-23. They received 2,362 complaints and 11,680 enquiries from the public. The office also reduced the cost of resolving complaints by 47% since 2007.
- Ten recommendations about ways to improve the safety and wellbeing of children and families and support prevention and reduction in child deaths and family domestic violence fatalities. These were made from the 56 investigable child deaths and 16 reviewable family and domestic violence fatalities the office received.
- New functions to oversee how organisations handle child abuse allegations, investigate complaints about charitable trusts, and scrutinise the operation of the Protected Entertainment Precincts legislation and the powers of the WA Police Force. The office commenced the Reportable Conduct Scheme, became the Western Australian Charitable Trusts Commission, and kept under scrutiny the operation of the Protected Entertainment Precincts legislation.
- Three major investigation reports tabled in Parliament on family and domestic violence and suicide, the handling of complaints by the Legal Services and Complaints Committee, and the role of the Office of the Public Advocate in notifying the families of deceased persons. The reports highlighted systemic issues and made recommendations to improve public administration and service delivery.
- An enhanced regional awareness and access to the office by visiting various locations in the Pilbara Region and engaged with local communities and stakeholders. The office visited Northam, Jigalong, Tom Price, Paraburdoo, Karratha, Roebourne and Port Hedland.
The Inspector-General of Taxation and Taxation Ombudsman (IGTO) in Australia
Celebrating 20 years
The Inspector-General of Taxation and Taxation Ombudsman (IGTO) is celebrating 20 years of service to the Australian community. The IGTO has been supporting the integrity and fairness in tax administration since 2023 as the Inspector-General of Taxation and since 2003 as the Taxation Ombudsman.
Report makes recommendations to improve administration
On the 18 October 2023, the IGTO released its report into the Exercise of the Commissioner’s General Powers of Administration (GPA). This report examined the nature and purpose of the Commissioner’s GPA through five case studies – including approximately 70 dispute investigations where the taxpayer made a mistake in a tax application form but was denied an opportunity to correct their mistake. The report was informed by Australian Administrative Law principles as well as New Zealand tax administration frameworks.
The Australian Administrative Law Policy Guide (2011) issued by the Attorney-General’s Department provides some important context for the review: Administrative power that affects rights and entitlements should be sufficiently defined to ensure the scope of the power is clear.
The report made six recommendations for improved administration:
- Three for the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) – these recommendations aim for administrative improvements by enhancing education, awareness and transparency around significant GPA decisions. (ATO has agreed to these.)
- Three for Government – these recommendations aim to establishing a principled framework to guide tax administration (decisions and actions) through the exercise of the GPA. (Government is yet to respond to the recommendations for law change.)
The report noted that “taxpayers who are aware of their rights and expect, and in fact receive, a fair and efficient treatment are more willing to comply.”
This past year the Queensland Ombudsman’s office has taken on new responsibilities, contributed to legislative reforms, and supported a review of the Public Interest Disclosure (PID) Act.
Some highlights of the year included:
- The establishment of the Inspector of Detention Services function, which aims to promote and uphold the humane treatment and conditions of detainees and prevent harm. The function started conducting inspections and reviews of detention services from 1 July 2023.
- The involvement in the implementation of the Coaldrake Report reforms, which enhance the independence and authority of the Ombudsman function. The Integrity and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2023, introduced to parliament on 16 June 2023, represents a significant step in implementing these reforms.
- The support to the review of the PID Act, which was finalised by the Honourable Alan Wilson KC on 19 June 2023. The Office provided a submission, statistical information, and advice to the review team.
The Office also achieved positive outcomes for the community and government agencies through its investigations, recommendations, training, and other assistance. The Office responded to 11,837 contacts, received 7,227 complaints, finalised 1,124 investigations, made 172 recommendations (all accepted), and trained 3,031 public sector officers. The Office also shared some of its investigation case studies in Casebook 2023.
Preparations are underway to mark the 50th anniversary of the Office of the Queensland Ombudsman in 2024.