Ombudsman report finds rise in agency complaints

By Rob O’Brien

An annual report by the Commonwealth Ombudsman has found a marked increase in people complaining about the services of government agencies.

The Commonwealth Ombudsman 2008-2009 Annual Report tabled in Parliament found that complaints to government agencies were up 14 per cent on the year before.

The majority (79 per cent) of complaints dealt with by the Ombudsman were about the correctness, propriety or timeliness of government agency decisions or actions.

The report found that 10 per cent of the complaints investigated identified some agency error or deficiency. Centrelink received more than 7,000 complaints alone.

Other complaints involved the accuracy or completeness of advice (12 per cent), the application of policy or legislation to individual circumstances (6 per cent), or public servant conduct (4 per cent).

“Everyone is entitled to be treated fairly by government,” Commonwealth Ombudsman Professor John McMillan said.

“My office plays a vital role in ensuring that happens by taking an active interest in accountability, transparency and integrity in government decision making and service delivery.

“The right to independently investigate complaints means that my office is able to help people resolve problems with government based on merit and without fear of reprisal. By applying what we learn through investigations, we are also able to help governments improve their performance.”

The Ombudsman said his office had a particular interest in supporting and promoting effective administration and delivery of programs to Indigenous Australians, especially in the context of the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER).

“In the second year of our involvement with the NTER, my office received more than 300 complaints and collected useful anecdotal information through informal discussions with Indigenous communities,” Professor McMillan said.

“Very often the complaints stemmed from a lack of consultation or communication about changes occurring in Indigenous communities. Such complaints are quickly and easily resolved by providing up-to-date, comprehensive information to the people affected.”

Key statistics in the annual report for 2008-09 include:

  • approaches and complaints to the Ombudsman increased by 14% on 2007-08 from 39,934 to 45,719
  • 5,233 complaints were investigated, compared to 4,700 the previous year
  • in 10% of the complaints investigated, some agency error or deficiency was identified, compared to 8% last year
  • approaches and complaints related to more than 120 agencies
  • the office conducted 30 inspections of the records of law enforcement and other agencies, compared to 10 inspections a year four years ago
  • the Ombudsman published 18 investigation reports—more than in any previous year
  • the Ombudsman made submissions to 19 parliamentary and other inquiries

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