ISSUE 9: JUNE 2022
News and views from integrity organisations in the Pacific and Australasia
Wominjeka | Welcome to this edition of Waka Tangata
Warm Pacific greetings to you all, and ‘Wominjeka’, which is the greeting used by the Wurundjeri people who are the traditional owners of the Aboriginal land from which I write to you today.
This is my first editorial, after taking over the role of APOR Regional President from New Zealand’s Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier, who was elected 2nd Vice President of the International Ombudsman Institution (IOI) in April. On behalf of Peter and myself, I want to thank you for the messages congratulating us on our appointments.
I feel incredibly privileged to be in this position, and am ever grateful for the warm support I have from you. I have been involved with APOR for many years now, and know first-hand the special qualities that exist within our region. For those I have not yet met, Peter and I are arranging online catch-ups in the coming months and I look forward to getting to know you better.
After the COVID-19 events of the past two and a half years, things do feel as though they are starting to turn a corner and elements of normality returning for some of us. I say this with the knowledge that some of our Pacific members have only just had their first domestic cases of the virus this year. Our region also feels the effects of natural disasters. The Kingdom of Tonga suffered a devastating volcanic eruption and tsunami in January, and we continue to think of our colleagues in Tonga as the recovery continues. Many of our members still continue to face pandemic-related complaints but, as the articles in this edition show, we continue to adapt and push for the fair treatment of our citizens.
The recent lifting of travel restrictions meant my two fellow APOR directors and I could attend the annual IOI Board of Directors meeting in New York. This was the first in-person meeting of the board in nearly three years. A key purpose of the New York meeting was to advance the IOI’s application for observer status at the United Nations General Assembly. Another important benefit was the chance to see so many of our fellow Ombudsmen in person again.
Last but not least, some important updates for the region. Firstly, back in January we welcomed Niki Rattle as the new Ombudsman in the Cook Islands. Niki has worked in the health and NGO sectors, and was most recently the Speaker of the Cooks Islands Parliament for nine years. Kia orana Niki and our warm congratulations on your appointment.
Secondly, I want to take the opportunity to recognise our dear colleague Sa’aga Teafa in Tuvalu, who has just vacated his role as Ombudsman to take up a Ministerial Position in the Tuvalu Government. My congratulations to you Sa’aga on the new role, and on behalf of the APOR family thank you for all your contributions to the region.
Finally, you should all have received a ‘save the date’ notice to celebrate the New Zealand Ombudsman’s 60th anniversary, and the coinciding annual APOR meeting and conference. After the difficult last couple of years, I know how valuable it will be for us to meet again in person. If you haven’t already, please let Peter’s office know if you plan on attending these events.
I will wrap up by saying I hope to see you all in Wellington in October, and catch up on what has been happening in your corner of our blue continent!
Warmest regards, Deborah Glass
APOR Regional President | Victorian Ombudsman, Australia
The IoI Board of Directors, New York, May 2022
Resilience through good governance
The Ombudsman continued to carry the torch of good governance during a very challenging three months of this year. The theme of ‘resilience through good governance’ was upheld throughout this challenging time. January saw the eruption of Hunga Tonga and Hunga Ha’apai volcanoes, followed immediately by the tsunami of 15 January.
In January, the office invited Father ‘Ekuasi Manu, Principal of ‘Api Fo’ou College, to bless the office and staff. He spoke of the resilience of Job in the Bible while going through very hard times when he lost everything. Father Manu likened the resilience and determination of Job not to divert from the love of God to the works of the office in helping people who are not happy with government’s decisions and services.
Father Manu spoke to us two days before the Hunga Tonga and Hunga Ha’apai volcanic eruption and the Tsunami.
February brought the community outbreak of COVID-19 that led to the extended lockdown, especially for Tongatapu and Vava’u. This lockdown was extended to March, covering Ha’apai in the latter part of the month. Only ‘Eua and the two Niuas remained COVID-free during the quarter.
This disrupted virtually all services of both government and non-government organisations. Essential staff, led by the Ombudsman and management, were able to man the office and attended to complaints and enquiries via the 0800 number and emails for the Tongatapu and Neiafu offices.
During this difficult time, ‘resilience through good governance’ is the solution the Ombudsman wishes to promote.
Ombudsman Western Australia
Ombudsman oversight of new police powers to fight organised crime
Legislation giving the Western Australia Police Force greater powers in December to combat organised crime included a safeguard – that the Ombudsman has oversight.
The Criminal Law (Unlawful Consorting and Prohibited Insignia) Act 2021 comprises three key reforms:
The prevention of communication and networking between offenders;
The prohibition of displaying insignia of identified criminal organisations in public; and
Powers to disperse gang members who gather together in public places.
The Ombudsman is required to review the impact of the operation of the Act on particular groups in the community to ensure that the new police powers are used appropriately and marginalised people in the community are not unfairly penalised.
‘In doing so, and consistent with my other monitoring functions, my office will have an important role in mediating the relationship between the power of the state and the rights of individuals and communities,’ says Ombudsman Chris Field.
Mr Field observes that parliaments and governments have identified an increasing need for Ombudsman offices to undertake new functions that reflect the growth of the powers of the state and a concomitant desire by citizens to ensure that these powers are exercised with integrity, transparency and accountability.
‘My office has undertaken a number of such functions in recent years, including the inspection of telecommunication interception records, the monitoring of criminal code infringement notices and the investigation of complaints by persons detained under relevant terrorism legislation,’ he says.
Control Yuan member-on-duty, Li-chiung SU, receives a petition by videoconference at the Complaints Receipt Centre
Bridging the gap with videoconference petitions
As technology continues to progress, the Control Yuan (CY) strives to keep pace with it and ensure the people of Taiwan can enjoy fully accessible communications and petitioning services. In 2021, the CY began accepting petitions via videoconferencing, enabling people to submit their complaints personally but without the obstacle of long-distance travel.
In 2021, the CY held a total of 18 videoconference sessions across 20 cities and counties, receiving about 30 petitions, in a process that was well-received by the public. During the pandemic, this process has proven to be an effective means of reducing close contact between people and minimising the risk of infection. At the same time, it has maintained the exercise of supervisory powers and protected the people’s right to have their complaints heard. This year the CY is upgrading the system and increasing the number of counties and cities it covers, and it will be leveraging real-time petitioning.
Saving time through a convenient appointment system
Each day, CY members take their turn at the Complaints Receipt Centre accepting in-person petitions. However, the Centre’s capacity is limited. When there are too many petitioners, people inevitably have to wait on-site. This can, in turn, make schedules uncertain, resulting in frustration and creating problems, particularly during the pandemic.
The CY launched an appointment system in June to boost efficiency and better meet the needs of the public. People are now able to book a date and time online for their petition to be heard. Upon arriving at the CY at the booked time, a dedicated staffer is allocated to meet with them, clarify any points of dispute and then accept the case for handling. This new process is expected to reduce the public’s waiting times, improve petition acceptance efficiency, and facilitate more accurate handling.
Office of the Ombudsman Hong Kong
Adapting operations is the new normal
Ombudsman Award recipients with Ombudsman Winnie Chiu (centre front, in red)
The Ombudsman continues to adapt operations to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. While balancing special work arrangements and social distancing measures, the office maintains its output, and remains accessible and responsive to the public with its enhanced IT capacity and social media use.
This includes initiating two own-motion investigations. One into the government’s operational arrangements for the Pilot Scheme on Community Care Service Voucher for the Elderly and the other into the Education Bureau’s monitoring of boarding sections of schools for children with intellectual disabilities.
The 2021 Ombudsman Awards Ceremony was held in November and was face-to-face as opposed to the online event in 2020, although scaled down for social distancing purposes. The Awards aim to acknowledge professionalism in handling complaints and foster a positive culture of service in the public sector.
The Grand Award 2021 went to Water Supplies Department while Environmental Protection Department and Housing Department were the runners-up. The Buildings Department was presented the Award on Mediation. Sixty-four public officers were presented the Individual Awards.
‘We were happy to have this opportunity to meet in person public servants who share our belief in positive complaint culture, and celebrate with them their successes in handling complaints,’ says Ombudsman Winnie Chiu.
The office has also held briefing and exchange sessions with government departments regularly to further enhance mutual understanding.
In the past two years, the Ombudsman’s Five-year Strategic Plan has been progressing despite the constraints of the pandemic. ‘While building organisational capacity to rise to future challenges, we continue to enhance transparency and understanding of our work through our website and social media,’ says Ms Chiu
The website is also being revamped to make it more user-friendly and encourage access to the Ombudsman’s services and information. The corporate video is being refreshed and will underpin a future publicity campaign.
Australian Commonwealth Ombudsman
Strengthening complaint handling in Australian public service agencies
A national survey by the Commonwealth Ombudsman of how Australian Public Service (APS) agencies handle complaints has identified room for improvement.
The voluntary survey of a broad selection of APS agencies was conducted in 2021 and focused on three key areas: good governance, effective data capture and reporting, and ongoing improvement. Its purpose was to identify opportunities to strengthen complaint handing systems and provided a baseline for measuring progress.
The Ombudsman found that improvements could be made by APS agencies focusing on data management, ensuring complaint data forms part of strategic decision making, undertaking customer satisfaction surveys, and sharing information about their complaints services in more formats across different channels to improve accessibility.
The Australian Commonwealth Ombudsman and Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) recently facilitated a workshop on gender equality with 15 staff from Ombudsman Republic of Indonesia (ORI).
At the 11 May workshop, APSC staff discussed their approach to developing the Gender Equality Strategy, the challenges they experienced, how they implemented the strategy and their approach to monitoring and evaluation to assess overall success.
There was an extensive question and answer session after the formal presentation, providing further insights into the unique challenges that ORI face in its day-to-day work, particularly when compared with Australia.
Partnership programmes continue with Ombudsman offices and integrity bodies in Indonesia, as well as Papua New Guinea and Samoa, identifying opportunities to deliver activities and collaborate virtually.
Utilising project management methodology in Ombudsman practice
Te Mato Akamoeau | Cook Islands Ombudsman has been adapting and applying the Agile project management methodology in their day-to-day operations to help clear old cases and manage investigation and policy workloads. Commonly used in the software development space, Agile focuses on incremental delivery and involves constant collaboration and continuous improvement through the effort of self-organising and cross-functional teams. Agile teams usually cycle through a process of planning, executing and evaluating.
Given the unique needs and circumstances of Te Mato Akamoeau, staff analysed and identified relevant and applicable frameworks within the Agile model that would meet business needs while keeping the spirit of constant collaboration and continuous improvement.
During initial planning, Te Mato Akamoeau’s Corporate Services Lead held an Agile ‘crash course’ training session with staff. Once staff were familiar with the Agile methodology, workshops were conducted to identify a ‘backlog’ of outputs, break these outputs into their constituent tasks, and quantify these tasks to measure progress using an Agile tool called ‘planning poker’. The scrum boards created using this process are displayed in common space in the office where they serve as a useful visual tool for tracking and to inform office strategy and planning discussions.
As part of the Agile management programme, Te Mato Akamoeau staff hold a daily stand-up where they discuss the previous day’s work, plans for the day ahead, and consider any impediments or obstacles that they are encountering. Each stand-up is opened with a member of staff leading the office in prayer, before all staff read the team vision and project vision to affirm their commitment and passion for their work and for the day ahead. As a small office these daily meetings ensures a shorter feedback loop, assists with keeping everybody accountable and helps improve the team’s overall communication.
This is only the start of Te Mato Akamoeau’s journey with Agile management but staff are already reporting benefits from adopting this way of thinking and working.
New casebook to help agencies make good decisions
The Queensland Ombudsman recently published a new guide for agencies to help improve their decision making. It also contains a sample of the outcomes the Ombudsman has achieved for Queenslanders through its investigations.
‘Our annual casebook of investigation outcomes, now in its second year, aims to be a tool for shared learning that helps build greater knowledge about issues for improving decision-making,’ says Ombudsman Anthony Reilly.
Cases were selected to show a range of outcomes and agencies that our work covers. Those outcomes address an individual complainant’s concerns as well as broader improvements to agency practices.
Feedback has been positive about the casebook and the insight it provides about the work of an Ombudsman.
Other resources to support good decision-making
The annual casebook is one component of an integrated suite of good decision making tools the Queensland Office has been developing for agencies over the past year, including:
No actual or perceived conflict of interest by former Minister of Planning
The South Australian Ombudsman tabled his report into the conduct of the Hon. Vickie Chapman, former Attorney-General and Minister for Planning, in May.
The report arose from a referral from a House of Assembly Parliamentary Committee which required the Ombudsman to investigate whether Ms Chapman, in her role as Minister for Planning, was in a position of a conflict of interest when she refused a development application. The proposal was to build a new port facility on Kangaroo Island, where Ms Chapman had strong family links and owned a farm property.
The Ombudsman determined that she had no actual or perceived conflict of interest, which contradicted the Parliamentary Committee’s conclusions. The report sets out how he approached the question of whether a conflict of interest existed. The Ombudsman also concluded that no other public officer, including the Premier, failed in their duty to ensure Ms Chapman complied with the Ministerial Code of Conduct when she determined the development application.
Five new reports highlight breadth and depth of Ombudsman role
The NSW Ombudsman has recently released five reports:
Safeguards required for strip searches in youth detention
The Ombudsman called on the Government to explain why it has not implemented recommendations to enact safeguards for the strip searching of children and young people by prison officers. Those recommendations were made following an investigation of strip searches of three young people at a youth justice centre. The searches were found to be oppressive and a special report about that matter was tabled last year.
Ombudsman investigations and related court proceedings
A special report about the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction to investigate complaints in circumstances where there may be related court proceedings. This report was prompted when a Bill was introduced to the Parliament proposing to amend the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction. The report explains why the amendment is not legally necessary.
Whistleblowing annual reports
The annual report outlines the oversight activities of the Ombudsman’s office. This includes supporting officials who make public interest disclosures (PIDs), providing advice and education to the agencies that receive PIDs (or whose conduct may be the subject of them), and in monitoring and auditing the operation of the PID legislation.
The report highlights the ongoing importance of ‘whistleblowing’ as a means of exposing corrupt conduct and other forms of wrongdoing. It also raised concerns that not all public authorities are complying with their obligations under the legislation to report information about PIDs to the Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman, as chairperson of the Public Interest Disclosures Steering Committee, is also required to prepare an annual report of the Committee’s activities and any recommendations made to the Minister. This report focuses on the Committee’s work advising the Government in relation to its drafting of the PID Bill. The PID Bill received assent in April 2022, with delayed commencement of up 18 months to allow agencies time to prepare for the new Act, which is a complete rewrite of the previous Act.
Machine technologies in administrative decision-making
A special report on the use of machine technologies in administrative decision-making includes several case studies. These illustrate some of the issues with the new technology, such as: automation of statutory discretion, translation of legislation into code, and machine technology governance.
One of the themes of the report is that a substantial barrier to scrutinising machine technology is the current lack of visibility of its use. For this reason, the key recommendation in the report is focussed on identifying agency use of machine technologies.
The report also offers agencies guidance on the legal and practical steps that should be taken when considering new technology.
New Zealand Ombudsman, Peter Boshier (centre) pictured with Cook Islands Speaker of the House, Hon. Tai Tura (left), and Cook Islands Ombudsman, Niki Rattle (right), during his June visit to Rarotonga
New Zealand Ombudsman, Peter Boshier, and members of his International Development and Engagement team travelled to Rarotonga in June to meet the newly-appointed Te Mato Akamoeau | Cook Islands Ombudsman, Niki Rattle, and further strengthen the relationship between their offices.
Ms Rattle and Mr Boshier attended meetings with key stakeholders, including Deputy Police Commissioner Akatauira Matapo, Solicitor-General Graeme Leung, and Speaker of the House Hon. Tai Tura. They both appeared in local radio, television and newspaper interviews to promote the role of Te Mato Akamoeau.
Representatives from both offices also progressed collaboration opportunities and trialled the Ombudsman Self-Assessment Tool (OSAT). The OSAT, currently in pilot phase, is being developed by the New Zealand Ombudsman to assist Ombudsman offices (primarily in the Pacific region) to identify strengths, capabilities and areas for development.
Celebrating several anniversaries in 2022 This year marks the 60th anniversary of the establishment of New Zealand Ombudsman. This year is also the 40th anniversary of the Official Information Act, 35th anniversary of the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act, and 15th anniversary of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture. A number of activities and events – online and in New Zealand – are planned for the next few months to celebrate these significant milestones. Watch this space! Inaugural report from Māori advisory group
Pūhara Mana Tangata – the Māori advisory panel to the Ombudsman – has published a report of its first two years in operation. The panel is made up of eight senior Māori leaders and rangatahi (youth) and provides guidance on engagement and communications on matters that impact Māori.
The report provides an overview of the panel’s work supporting Mr Boshier and his staff, including promoting the role of Ombudsman as an independent watchdog for Parliament to wider Māori audiences.
Whistleblowing legislation updated
New Zealand’s ‘whistleblowing’ legislation has been updated. From July, the Ombudsman is to provide independent information and guidance to anyone, including both past and present employees, organisations (both public sector and others), and third parties.
Whistleblowers will also be able to raise matters directly with the Ombudsman without first having to do so within their organisation.