News and views from integrity organisations in the Pacific and Australasia
ISSUE 3 : MAY 2019
Ngā mihi nui kia koutou katoa, warm greetings to you all.
And welcome to this edition of Waka Tangata.
Sadly, neglect and abuse occur in every society, so it is interesting to see that three Ombudsmen in our region have recently been tasked, to varying degrees, to be active in the area. In New South Wales and Hong Kong, the plight of the elderly has come under the microscope, while in New Zealand, my Office has a new mandate regarding the treatment of children in state care.
These are interesting developments because they are dealing with areas not normally the domain of the traditional Ombudsman. I know that in New Zealand we are well placed to do this work given our nearly 60 years of complaints and complex investigations, and this is now recognised by a very specific mandate. I will watch with interest to see if other governments, be they state or national, also start to see that the skills our offices bring can be used for wider good throughout the region.
Arohanui (much love) Christchurch
The recent horrific events in Christchurch still reverberate around New Zealand. My Office has already started to receive a wide range of complaints from the media and public covering issues from school lockdowns to firearms legislation. We anticipate that given the interest in the tragedy that this work will increase over time. Many of the agencies we deal with are, and will have not only the pressure of dealing with the aftermath of the tragedy but also the public scrutiny. My Office has already alerted agencies that while we encourage them to try and meet deadlines, I will be taking the extenuating circumstances into account when deciding how to deal with complaints about delays or extensions. And while we are helping agencies to set up processes to deal with the nature and volume of requests, we also need to show agencies empathy and understanding as they continue this very difficult work.
On a personal note, my Office has been deeply touched by the many notes of support from all over the region and beyond. My heartfelt thanks on behalf of my Office – it shows me that the international ombudsman community is not only a group striving for integrity and transparency, but also a family of organisations built on principles of decency and respect.
Ngā mihi, kind regards
Chief Ombudsman, Aotearoa/New Zealand
Fairness for all/Te tika mo te katoa
Ombudsman investigating boards of public enterprises
Tongan Ombudsman, ‘Aisea Havea Taumoepeau speaking at the APOR conference, November 2018
In February, The Ombudsman of Tonga, ‘Aisea Havea Taumoepeau announced an ‘own motion investigation’ into allegations of poor administration by the boards of public enterprises.
The inquiry is partly in response to reports that some board members were spending excessively, taking loans, being paid thousands in bonuses and overtime and travelling to Europe. The Ombudsman is working with the Ministry of Public Enterprises on the inquiry, with the Ministry providing information as requested.
"The inquiry is to see whether these allegations are substantiated or otherwise," the Ombudsman said. He stressed the probe was in the public interest and did not reflect on the Ministry itself.
“If the allegations are true, then procedural and administrative matters will need to be corrected, and I don’t rule out involving the police.
"Either way, it will be for the benefit of the Ministry to remedy any shortfall in the public enterprises concerned, or be assured there is no undesirable maladministration in the operation of public enterprises".
Tonga's public enterprises are profit-making service providers owned by government, and all the public enterprise boards are being investigated.
"The allegations, bar one, are not specified specifically or directed against a particular board. It's just a general allegation being made.”
Ombudsman completes Office structure review
Acting Vanuatu Ombudsman Alain Wai Molgos
The Vanuatu Acting Ombudsman, Mr Alain Wai Molgos, and his senior management team met in April to complete a review on the current structure of the Ombudsman Office.
This fulfills an objective of the official 2019 Ombudsman Office business plan to review the current official structure and ensure a more appropriate one is in place that would suit the needs of the Office. The review also took into account any potential future changes to proposed legislative alterations to the Ombudsman Act and the Leadership Code Act that are currently in the pipeline.
The Office is currently structured to have 37 positions including the Ombudsman himself. With the current budget ceiling, the Office can only accommodate 17 officers and that leaves a total of 20 positions in the current office structure that could not be funded by the official office budget, or positions that cannot be filled.
“It is imperative that the Office of the Ombudsman gains public confidence in carrying out its mandatory functions, therefore required change is needed in the current office structure to suit the current circumstances, address the most challenges faced by the Office, and prepare for the future,” says Ombudsman Molgos.
Mr Molgos thanked his senior management team for all their efforts at the review meeting, and continued to stress his support to ensure all the required changes are being endorsed by the authorities concerned.
New South Wales
Report into abuse and neglect of vulnerable adults
In November 2018, the New South Wales Ombudsman tabled a report on its inquiry into the abuse and neglect of adults with disabilities in community settings such as the family home.
This inquiry was started in July 2016 because the Office was increasingly receiving allegations of serious human rights abuses of vulnerable adults living in the community, and because there was no other agency in NSW with the powers to adequately investigate and act on these types of matters.
Between August 2015 and October 2018, the Office responded to 206 reports of alleged abuse and neglect of adults with disabilities, involving their family members, partners, or other members of the community.
The inquiry identified highly vulnerable adults who were living in atrocious circumstances, and experiencing serious and ongoing abuse and neglect from those they should be able to trust. The case studies show that horrendous abuse is occurring in family homes and other community settings, and needs to be addressed.
The inquiry has enabled the Ombudsman to test what needs to be done to provide an effective interagency response to these matters. This can be relatively straightforward provided the agency taking the lead role has access to the right information, adequate powers, and the cooperation and support of key government and non-government stakeholders.
The report demonstrated the need for a comprehensive safeguarding approach in NSW for vulnerable adults living in the community, including an effective response to the abuse and neglect of both vulnerable adults with disability and older people. The NSW Government is establishing such a body, which is expected to commence operation on 1 July 2019.
As part of its international programme, the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman recently ran professional development placements for its partner agencies.
Between February and April, it hosted two separate placements – 10 interns from its partners in the Solomon Islands, Samoa and Papua New Guinea, and a further 10 from the Ombudsman Republik Indonesia.
The interns explored best practice complaint handling and investigation processes with the Ombudsman’s Intake Investigation officers, and undertook complaint management training with the Queensland Ombudsman. They also met with other bodies such as the Victorian Energy and Water Ombudsman and Information Commissioner to learn about their jurisdictions and functions.
This was also a wonderful opportunity for the Office to learn from its international partners and share learnings and experiences on commonly faced issues and challenges in complaint handling.
The Office also supported our Samoan and Papua New Guinean partners to attend the Ontario Ombudsman Sharpening Your Teeth Advanced Investigative Training for Administrative Watchdogs course, hosted by the Queensland Ombudsman in Brisbane from 19-20 March. The Samoan delegation also met with the Queensland Ombudsman to discuss developing and delivering their own complaints management training.
In June, the Office will be supporting the Papua New Guinea Ombudsman Commission to facilitate a workshop in Lei as part of its Government Bodies Liaison Programme which is aimed at assisting government agencies with complaint handling.
It will also be holding its Commonwealth Complaints Handling Forum in Canberra in June 2019, and will be supporting some international programme partners to attend. Please contact [email protected] for details.
Victorian Ombudsman’s latest OPCAT investigation
In 2017, the Australian Government announced its intention to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) treaty. Since then, the Victorian Ombudsman has been actively investigating the practical changes needed to implement OPCAT in Victoria.
The first investigation centred on mapping places of detention in Victoria and how they were monitored. It also tested how OPCAT inspections might work in practice by conducting a pilot OPCAT-style inspection at Victoria’s main women’s prison. The investigation report was tabled in the Victorian Parliament on 30 November 2017 and is available here.
Late last year, the Victorian Ombudsman launched a second ‘own motion’ investigation related to OPCAT. This featured a thematic inspection over three weeks in March and April of the use of practices that may lead or amount to the ‘solitary confinement’ of children and young people in several closed environments – a maximum-security prison, a youth justice centre, and a secure welfare facility.
In an Australian first, the Ombudsman established an advisory group comprised of oversight bodies, such as the Commissioner for Children and Young People, and civil society organisations such as the Human Rights Law Centre, to assist the investigation. Members of the group provided staff and other expertise to the team, including expertise in dealing with Aboriginal youth, childhood trauma and mental health. This multi-disciplinary, multi-agency inspection team was led by Ombudsman staff.
A thematic inspection across multiple facilities presents a unique opportunity to examine practices across different closed environments, allowing the investigation to identify both examples of good practice and areas for improvement. The inspection team gathered first hand observations, spoke confidentially with children, young people and staff, had access to inspect all areas of a facility, and is reviewing relevant records and documentation.
The report will also include an analysis of National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) models, to help inform the Victorian Government as they consider which agency or agencies will serve asVictoria’s NPM, and what legislative powers, protections, and funding those agencies need. The report is expected to be tabled in Parliament around the middle of the year.
Another new role for the Ombudsman
The Government has announced a proposal aimed at strengthening the independent oversight of the Oranga Tamariki—Ministry for Children systems and children’s issues.
The package includes a proposal to give the Ombudsman an enhanced role in overseeing complaints and investigations relating to children and young people in state custody.
Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier says he sees this new role as an extension of his existing work overseeing the administrative actions of all public sector agencies.
“Under this proposal, I can work quickly to respond to complaints, as well as identifying and resolving emerging issues. I can launch an investigation at any stage. Oranga Tamariki will need to tell me about any serious issue or if it receives any significant complaints.”
The new directive also allows the Ombudsman to look at wider trends such as a cluster of complaints in an institution, or about a particular event that may suggest broader issues with systems and processes.
“My Office has the experience to take on this work as it has a track record of resolving complaints and completing complex investigations in the public sector.
“I’m here for people who do not normally have a voice, those who don’t know who else to turn to. I see this as an opportunity to make a real difference to children’s lives.”
The function will be developed progressively over the next 18 months and will have a strong focus on te ao Māori (the Māori world) given the high number of Māori children in state care.
Mr Boshier spent close to 25 years as a Family Court Judge, the last eight of those as the Principal Family Court Judge.
The new mandate comes on the heels of another new piece of work announced in
mid-2018, monitoring the treatment of patients in privately run aged care facilities and detainees in court cells under the United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT).
Decisions of interest
Government’s Regulation of Proprietary Chinese Medicine
The provisions in the Chinese Medicine Ordinance (CMO) covering registration for proprietary Chinese medicine (pCm) took effect in 2003. However, of more than 18,000 applications for registration of pCm, less than 10% have succeeded in obtaining full registration 15 years after the enactment of the legislation. More than one-third of the applications are still holding transitional registration, and are still in the market, a very undesirable situation.
The Office found that many new health food products with Chinese medicines as the main ingredients have appeared on the market. As long as other non-Chinese medicine ingredients are added, such products can be sold in the market without registration. Some even contain Chinese medicines with strong toxicity listed in Schedule 1 of the CMO, which may endanger people’s health.
However, people in the trade have indicated that the current registration system for pCm is harsh and complicated, and the Government’s technical support is inadequate. Moreover, there is currently no registration or certification system for Chinese medicine pharmacists in Hong Kong, which is not conducive to the long-term development of the industry.
The Ombudsman has made 12 improvement recommendations to the Government:
to review thoroughly the current registration system for pCm and the CMO;
to amend the relevant provisions of the Ordinance;
to prevent the proliferation of undesirable drugs and health food products in the market, in order to safeguard public health; and
to take measures to assist the trade, and strengthen their communication with the trade to promote its healthy development.
The Ombudsman has recently released a number of other direct investigation reports which can be found here. These include investigations into the Social Welfare Department’s monitoring of services of residential care homes for the elderly, the Marine Department’s arrangements for private vessel moorings, and psychological health assessment of school children.
Decisions of interest
Sunshine Coast Regional Council regulatory enforcement
The Queensland Ombudsman has released his reportThe Sunshine Coast Regional Council regulatory enforcement report: An investigation of actions taken by Sunshine Coast Regional Council in response to complaints about power boat noise.
The report found that the Council failed to meet its regulatory obligations in response to a complaint about power boat noise.
A homeowner was concerned about the noise from two large power boats moored at a neighbouring residential property and made a complaint to the Council. The homeowner later complained to the Queensland Ombudsman that the Council had not adequately investigated their concerns.
The Council initially reached the conclusion that it was unable to assist, but after considering the evidence, the Ombudsman formed the view that the Council had not met its regulatory obligations.
The report found that the Council failed to complete the necessary step of collecting sufficient evidence to determine whether there was a breach of any provisions relating to environmental nuisance in the Environmental Protection Act 1994, noting the Council’s decision was flawed because it did not comply with its own Compliance and Enforcement Policy 2018.
The Ombudsman recommended the Council investigate the complaint and, if a breach was found, take appropriate action. The Council advised that it would engage a consultant to conduct an independent assessment, and also determine what action may be reasonable and proportionate having regard to the Environmental Protection Act 1994 and its policy.
Comings and goings
The new Hong Kong Ombudsman, Ms Winnie Chiu Wai-yin started her term of five years commencing 1 April 2019.
Before taking up this appointment, Ms Chiu served in the Hong Kong Police Force for more than 36 years. During this time, she accumulated rich experience in investigation, operations, policy planning and human resources management. She possesses outstanding skills in leadership and communication, and as the first female Deputy Commissioner of Police, Ms Chiu commanded respect and was well recognised both in the Government and in the community.
The former Ombudsman, Ms Connie Lau, completed her term on 31 March 2019.
The new Cook Islands Ombudsman is Nooapii Tearea, effective from 26 February 2019.
He was appointed for a term of three years and sworn in at a special ceremony held at the Cook Island Parliament. Mr Tearea takes on the role previously held by Mr Tearoa John Tini. Affectionately known a Nono, Mr Tearea joined the Cook Islands public service in 1978 and has held many roles in the Ministry of Justice, including Registrar of the High Court, Coroner, and Chief Electoral Officer. He studied at the law school of Waikato University, New Zealand.
A former senior NSW public servant, Paul Miller, has been appointed New South Wales Deputy Ombudsman and Community and Disability Services Commissioner. Paul’s broad experience across a number of public sector agencies at senior executive level, his integrity and his well-known commitment to transparency make him ideally suited to his new role.
Paul, who has previously held the roles of Deputy Secretary Department of Premier and Cabinet and Deputy Secretary Department of Justice, commenced on 29 April 2019.
New Zealand’s Chief Ombudsman, Peter Boshier, has been elected Regional President of Australasian and Pacific Ombudsman Region (APOR), his role beginning on 1 April 2019.
Mr Boshier praised the outgoing president and Hong Kong Ombudsman, Connie Lau, for the significant contribution she made during her two years in the role. He said he would endeavour to continue her active role in developing links with regional and international bodies to ensure that the work of Ombudsman Offices is understood, valued and protected.
His replacement as a Director of APOR is Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass, who joins IOI Second Vice-President Chris Field, the Western Australian Ombudsman, as a Regional Director.
Deborah first practised law in Melbourne before taking on roles in Switzerland, Hong Kong, and London where, amongst other roles, she became a Commissioner with the new Independent Police Complaints Commission of England and Wales (IPCC) in 2004.
Deborah was appointed Victorian Ombudsman in March 2014 for a term of 10 years.
Deputy Ombudsman Chris Wheeler will be leaving the New South Wales Ombudsman’s office on 28 June 2019. He was appointed to the role in 1994.
Chris has operational responsibility for the traditional Ombudsman role – dealing with complaints about the public sector and local government. He has worked with agencies to improve their processes, developing guidelines and other resources on good complaint handling and administrative practice.
Chris has made a significant contribution to public administration in not only NSW but across Australia and internationally, and was awarded a Public Service Medal (PSM) in January’s Australia Day Honours, a recognition of his impact across the public sector.
The New South Wales Ombudsman has recently tabled the following reports to Parliament:
The New South Walesgovernment announced that it will transfer the reportable conduct scheme under Part 3A of the Ombudsman Act 1974from the NSW Ombudsman to the Children’s Guardian. The Children’s Guardian is an independent government agency that works to protect children by promoting and regulating quality, safe organisations and services. By transferring the reportable conduct function, there will be greater integration and streamlining of oversight arrangements for safeguarding children in NSW, and remove duplication that currently occurs. In addition, the coverage of the current scheme will be expanded to include religious bodies. The scheme is likely to transfer on 1 July 2019.
In February 2019, the Hong Kong Ombudsmanrolled out a new publicity campaign with the theme of ‘Positive Complaint Culture for Better Administration’.
The campaign encouraged positive attitudes towards complaints, and promoted a tripartite synergy among citizens, Government departments/public organisations and the Ombudsman’s Office to achieve better public administration. Its commercials and print advertisements were shown on local television channels, online media platforms, and public transport facilities such as train bodies, carriages and bus stations shelters.
Investigators’ training workshop
The International Ombudsman Institute (IOI) has approved an application to hold an investigators’ training workshop for two days in Nadi, Fiji,at the Tanoa International on Wednesday 31 July and Thursday 1 August. Tuesday 30 July and Friday 2 August will be used as travel days for your staff to get to and from the workshop.
This will be an excellent learning opportunity for investigators in the region, and a real sign of the IOI’s support for such initiatives.
The training will take a typical complaint, through the whole of the process from incoming communication right through to conclusion, whether that is an agreed outcome or a report and recommendation.
The New Zealand Ombudsman’s Office is coordinating the training, and it will be in contact shortly to see what you would like to do and to start making arrangements for two members of your staff to attend this investigator training programme.
25-27 September｜Taipei, Taiwan
31stAustralasian and Pacific Ombudsman Region Conference
The Control Yuan is pleased to be hosting the 31st APOR conference. A highlight will be a workshop themed ‘The Ombudsman’s Role in Human Rights Protection’. We will inform you about registration details and the conference agenda soon, and look forward to welcoming you at the conference in Taipei, Taiwan!
You can see photos from the 30thAPOR conference held in Auckland last November here.
Upcoming courses include responding to child protection allegations against employees, frontline complaint handling, Investigating misconduct in the public sector, and frontline complaint handling – community and disability services.