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Waka Tangata: APOR E-news (November 2018)

Peter Boshier
Issue date:

News and views from integrity organisations in the Pacific and Australasia



Ngā mihi nui kia koutou katoa, warm greetings to you all.
And welcome to this edition of Waka Tangata.

Outreach, training, and the treatment of vulnerable people are clear themes in this issue of Waka Tangata.

It’s heartening to see that Ombudsmens’ offices are reaching out to each other, and that training and education of both public officials and the community is bearing fruit. The Tongan outreach programme has led to a remarkable increase in complaints being received, and the annual reports of several other agencies show similar patterns.

A variation of this, that I have been privileged to take part in, is the proactive official information programmes run by a small number of agencies to make their own staff more familiar with the legislation that they deal with. I am sure the success of these programmes will see more occur across the sector.

While the initiatives in Samoa and New South Wales regarding the treatment of vulnerable citizens are sobering, they show what can be achieved. In New Zealand, we are about to start monitoring people in detention within privately run dementia facilities.

My final thought on this issue of Waka Tangata – while there are difficult issues being dealt with, the progress being made by our offices in the region is highly encouraging.

Ngā mihi, kind regards

Peter Boshier
Chief Ombudsman, Aotearoa/New Zealand
Fairness for all/Te tika mo te katoa 


Family violence report released

The National Human Rights Institution (NHRI), part of the Office of the Ombudsman of Samoa, has completed its public inquiry into family violence, its first national inquiry.

Headed by Samoan Ombudsman Maiava Iulai Toma, the inquiry commissioners began work on the report in late 2016, and it was publicly released in September 2018.

The report makes for challenging reading as seen in this excerpt:

Family violence sits behind a veil of silence so it was necessary to lift this veil and create a national conversation – to hear the stories of those from every corner of our country to fully understand the problem, and to ask our people what they think the solution should be.

More than 1,800 people, representing churches, villages, specialists, and individuals including survivors, took part in the inquiry. As the report states:

This Inquiry would not have been possible without the bravery of the many survivors of family violence who spoke with us, shared their stories and bared their souls in the hope and belief that in coming forward it will prevent others like them suffering in the future.

The report made 39 recommendations covering everything from technology to the media, gender equality, and the role of the church. However, the Ombudsman says there is light at the end of the tunnel:

(There is) also hope and optimism, arising from the practical solutions which have been put forward and a realisation of how our culture, faith, and human rights can help us in addressing the social ill that is family violence.

A summary of the report can be found here, while the full report is available here.

New South Wales

Reporting on disability and child safety issues

Since July 2016, the NSW Ombudsman has had a standing inquiry into allegations of abuse and neglect of adults with disability in the community, including within the family home. The inquiry was started as there was no agency in NSW with powers to investigate allegations that did not reach a criminal threshold. During the inquiry, matters were notified via an arrangement with the National Disability Abuse and Neglect Hotline, as well as contact from disability providers and members of the community. 

In 2017-18, the Ombudsman’s Office received concerns about 105 matters. In 81 cases, the allegations did not relate to service providers. Instead, the alleged abuse and neglect involved family members or other people in the community. In the other 24 cases, there were also concerns about the conduct of a disability provider, such as a failure to adequately respond to signs of abuse.

The inaugural meeting of the child safety standing committee was held at NSW Parliament House on 12 September 2018.

Meanwhile with the completion of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was completed, and the NSW government’s response to the Commission’s recommendations released. A critical challenge was ensuring that survivors and their advocates were meaningfully engaged in the resulting reform process in a way that would rebuild trust and confidence in key institutions.

Discussions were held with key religious leaders, survivor groups and a number of former police and Royal Commissioners. The committee was then established to provide governance arrangements to help drive the response to the recommendations of the Royal Commission.

Details of both projects can be found in the NSW Ombudsman’s annual report, pages 129 and 110 respectively.


Funding boost on its way in Vanuatu

New Zealand Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier with Vanuatu's Acting Ombudsman, Alain Wai Molgos (l) and President Tallis Obed Moses (r)
The Ombudsman in Vanuatu plays an important constitutional role in ensuring that there is good leadership throughout the country.

Part of the Ombudsman's duties are to oversee the performance of the country's leaders, yet for some time, the Office has been compromised by poor resourcing and understaffing. Space is cramped and hardly user-friendly.

But recently, the government advised the Ombudsman of a substantial boost to its funding which will allow the employment of more investigative staff. The Office presently has a number of cases where it considers a prosecution for breach of the leadership code is appropriate. 

Recently New Zealand’s Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier travelled to Vanuatu and met with the ni-Vanuatu President and senior cabinet ministers. The point was made that Vanuatu is very much a part of the international Ombudsman community, and that the countries international standing would be enhanced by an increasing and reliable financial support for the Office and the work that it does.


Complaints up …as are recommendations accepted

Tonga's Ombudsman's Office is receiving more complaints than ever before, and pleasingly, the rate of acceptance of its recommendations by agencies is at nearly 100 percent.

As reported by Radio New Zealand, in the 2017/18 year the Office investigated 209 complaints compared with just 48 in 2014.
Key to the increase has been raising awareness of the Office through public awareness outreach programmes run over the past few years.

The campaign to inform the public and the government about the Ombudsman aims to educate people about the Office, its role and how it can, as an independent body, consider complaints. This has increased public understanding of the Office’s role and how its services can be accessed.

On the other side of the coin, forging better relationships with Tonga’s governmental agencies has seen an increase in the acceptance of recommendations made to nearly 100 percent.

Again, the Office credits this increased compliance partly due to the work it has done to educate government officials in its functions, what its mandate is, and how the Ombudsman’s system works.
Tongan Ombudsman ‘Aisea Taumoepeau

Tonga / New Zealand

A vote of thanks

In September, the New Zealand Office of the Ombudsman was delighted to host Mele’ofa Mohenoa, Senior Investigation Officer, Office of the Ombudsman, Tonga for a short-term scholarship funded by the New Zealand Government.

Mele progressed through a comprehensive training programme, covering jurisdictional analysis, investigative processes and report writing. She was awarded an International Skills Certificate for diligently completing the short-term scholarship.
Here’s what Mele had to say:
“I would like to express my gratitude to the New Zealand Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier for your warm welcome and allowing me to join your good Office for a month. My time in your good Office was a great experience for me. All the skills and experiences I have learnt from your Office really helped me in many ways as an investigator to improve and to build confidence in myself when doing my work in the Tongan Office. I would say that the attachment to your Office will make a change on our current processes.

Your office is very advanced and your staff had really great experiences, and I cannot thank them enough for sharing them with me. I was very happy with your Office’s hospitality during my time there. All the training was very helpful, and I think the attachment was very worthwhile. In the end I am very grateful that I have learnt as much as I could from some of the BEST!!”

Mele’ofa Mohenoa, Senior Investigation Officer, Office of the Ombudsman – Tonga

It was a pleasure for our Office as well – Mele’s cheery demeanour and her contribution to our Office was much appreciated. And we won’t mention the unseasonably cold weather she had to deal with in Wellington…
Caption: Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier with Mele’ofa Mohenoa

New Zealand

Private aged-care facilities & court cells to be monitored

The New Zealand Chief Ombudsman has recently been designated to monitor the treatment of people detailed in privately-run aged care facilities and court cells will be monitored to ensure the people held in them are not subjected to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.

"We are currently working on understanding the scope of our new designation," says Peter Boshier, Chief Ombudsman. “We’re engaging the sector and industry bodies, visiting facilities, as well as talking to Parliament about the resources we will need to carry out our role effectively."

The Chief Ombudsman already monitors the conditions and treatment of people detained in health and disability places of detention, prisons, immigration detention facilities, and child care and protection and youth justice residences.

“This amounts to a major expansion my current responsibilities under the United Nation’s Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT).

"The new designation will enable me to monitor and inspect privately run aged care facilities where there are dementia units and where people, often the elderly, are detained because of their vulnerability.

“We need to make sure New Zealand’s reputation for the good treatment of it citizens, whatever their circumstances, is protected and enhanced.”

Mr Boshier says his Office currently inspected 110 sites. With the new delegation he expects his Office to oversee an additional 180 privately run dementia units with locked facilities, and 60 court facilities.

“We already monitor state-run dementia facilities. It makes sense for this role to extend to both the public and private sectors. I hope it will provide a good overview of the standard of care across the country.”

The monitoring is not expected to start for at least 12 months.

More details on the initiative can be found here.


Delivering training to thousands

Regardless of which jurisdiction you work in, work in an ombudsman’s office has daily challenges that, while regionally different, are fundamentally the same.

The Office of the Queensland Ombudsman (QO) has four programs to address decision-making, complaints management, ethical awareness, and managing unreasonable complainant conduct.

In the past three years, the Office has trained more than 5,000 public officers in state government, local government and universities. Training is delivered in group sessions, open sessions or can be tailored to the relevant needs of agencies. The trainers also regularly deliver sessions in regional and rural centres.

QO’s experienced trainers explain the latest relevant legislation, policy requirements and discuss the challenges that public sector officers face.

QO is the oversight agency for the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2010 (PID Act). As part of the oversight role, the Office’s PID team delivers training and awareness presentations to public officers on managing PIDs. These are relatively new programmes and more than 300 people participated in them in 2017-18.

The PID team is developing online resources to help officers understand their rights and responsibilities in this area: View the 10-minute video summary on the rights and responsibilities of Queensland employees regarding the PID Act.

The full calendar of training courses available through QO can be seen here.

QO’s newsletters for local, state, community and legal groups can all be viewed here as well as a link to the QO Advisories.

Pacific / IOI

New UN working group will consider issues for Pacific

Image – Members of the Executive Committee meet in Brussels 
The Executive Committee of the World Board of the International Ombudsman Institute (IOI) met recently in Brussels during the quadrennial conference of the European Region. The meeting discussed a range of matters of particular relevance to the Pacific, the review of the IOI by-laws, training proposals, IOI regional funding grants, and the Venice Principles to which APOR members had recently submitted very helpful feedback. 

Following on from the official IOI side-event held with the United Nations (UN) in New York earlier this year, the meeting agreed to establish a working group, which will be tasked to develop a draft strategy for UN engagement to be presented to the IOI World Board meeting in Mexico in May 2019. Peter Boshier, Chief Ombudsman, New Zealand and Deborah Glass, Victorian Ombudsman have been appointed members of the Working Group and will bring considerable expertise and experience to the process, but also particular insight regarding issues relevant in the Pacific region.

The conference, The Ombudsman in an open and participatory society, coincided with the 20thanniversary of the Federal Ombudsman of Belgium, and was hosted by Catherine De Bruecker and Guido Herman, federal Ombudsmen of Belgium. The conference also celebrated the 40thanniversaryof the IOI. 

Decisions of interest

Republic of China (Taiwan)

Rights of people living with dementia

The Control Yuan has urged the Government to further strengthen the promotion and protection of the rights of people living with dementia.

In an investigation report released in July 2018 by the Control Yuan, members Jane Y. W. Chiang and Lin Ya-feng have found that the Taiwan Dementia Plan 2.0 published by the Ministry of Health and Welfare in December 2017 was vague in its scheme to protect the rights of people living with dementia, and lacked concrete action plans.

During the investigation, the two members consulted experts such as Glenn Rees, Chair of Alzheimer’s Disease International, and Kate Swaffer, CEO of Dementia Alliance International. The investigation report points out that putting an end to discrimination and establishing a dementia-friendly community are key to ensuring equal rights for people living with dementia, and the need to build an accurate understanding of dementia.

The report notes that it will require an integration of resources across relevant government agencies, as well as the active participation and engagement of both people living with dementia and their caregivers.

The report urges both the Executive and Judicial Branches to review and amend the possible administrative and legal obstacles so that people living with dementia may exercise their rights on a fair and equal ground.

More details can be found here.

In short

Challenging behaviour by complainants is a feature of life in all Ombudsman offices, as well as for other complaint handlers and frontline staff. The Victorian Ombudsman’s new Good Practice Guide to Dealing with Challenging Behaviour recognises this and provides practical strategies to identify, prevent and defuse a range of behaviours. It also explores how to manage or limit service provision in response to behaviour that becomes unreasonable, and offers advice about looking after ourselves and our staff when encountering challenging behaviour. A comprehensive suite of Victorian Ombudsman guidelines can be found here.
In July, the Hong Kong Ombudsman, Ms Connie Lau released to the public her Annual Report to 31 March 2018. During the year, the Office set record highs in the number of direct investigations completed, mediation cases handled, and complaints relating to access to information lodged with the Office. Around 90% of the recommendations made by the Office were accepted by Government departments and public bodies. The complete report and a summary of the year can be found here.
In October, the New South Wales Ombudsman 2017-18 tabled its annual report in Parliament. Highlights for the year included:
  • 40,687 formal and informal contacts
  • 32,204 contacts to it's online complaint form were referred to more appropriate agencies
  • Five annual reports and six special reports were tabled in Parliament about public interest issues
  • Two reports were tabled on behalf of the Child Death Review team
  • Of the 62 recommendations in it's special reports to Parliament, 49 have been accepted and it is awaiting a response on the remaining 13.
The full report and statistical summary can be found here.
Another annual report, this one from the Australian Commonwealth Ombudsman. Of particular interest:
  • Complaint handling continued to grow with 38,026 in-jurisdiction complaints received in 2017-18, the highest ever.
  • The commencement of new functions in relation to making recommendations to the Department of Defence on reparation payments for survivors of Defence abuse, and on dealing with complaints from people in relation to vocational education and training student loans.
  • Reports, amongst others, on the Australian National Disability Insurance Scheme, citizenship decision-making, the transport of cargo across our wharves, complaint handling at Australia Post, and health insurance policy changes.
The report contains several case studies including an agency’s poor handling of a disability complaint (page 32), and the twinning program with the Ombudsman Commission of Papua New Guinea (page 75).
And finally, the New Zealand Chief Ombudsman released his annual report in mid-October.

The Report shows increased clearance rates for complaints, and also a significant lift in his Office’s public profile through the release of the publication of investigations, more guidance material, and extensive training and assistance for government agencies.

“New Zealanders have the right to expect a lot from us. They want us to resolve complaints as early as possible; they want us to be assertive yet helpful; they should feel confident that any complaint will be dealt with fairly, robustly and confidentially”, the Chief Ombudsman said.

Upcoming events

28-30 November | Auckand

APOR – Holding Governments to Account in a Changing Climate

New Zealand is delighted to be hosting the 30th APOR conference. A highlight will be a discussion on day two on ‘Impact of Climate Change on Ombudsmen, Impact of Ombudsmen on Climate Change’. We will keep you posted on details as they develop and look forward to meeting some of you at the conference!

New South Wales Ombudsman training programme

The NSW Ombudsman offers a range of quality, affordable training workshops based on our experience in assisting government agencies and non-government organisations to improve their administrative conduct, decision-making and standards of service delivery.

The training calendar and course outlines are available here.
7 December|Taipei, Taiwan

Control Yuan 2018 Workshop on CRPD

The promotion of good governance and the protection of human rights lie at the heart of an ombudsman’s work. This year, the Control Yuan Workshop turns its attention to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The programme includes a keynote speech on reasonable accommodation, as well as four panel discussions dedicated to Articles 13, 14, 15, 24 and 27 of the CRPD. More details are available from [email protected]

Dealing with challenging behaviour …and more

The Victorian Ombudsman’ Office has launched a new training workshop on ‘Dealing with challenging behaviour’. It is a full-day workshop where facilitators work with participants to learn more about the ‘prevent, respond, manage, limit’ model and practise strategies provided in both the Guide and the Manual. For more information on this workshop and the other training opportunities offered in Victoria, go to the Public Sector Education page or contact [email protected].
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