Report reveals Victoria’s most complained about councils

Local councils and prisons were the most complained about public agencies in Victoria last year, a report shows.

There were 3,540 complaints about local councils in 2019-20, making up almost a quarter (22.5 per cent) of total complaints to the Victorian Ombudsman.

Corrections, justice and community safety – including prisons, youth justice and Fines Victoria – accounted for 5,131 complaints.

The issues raised about councils included a range of services including planning, local laws, parking and rates.

Complaints were also made about conflicts of interest, improper conduct and poor governance.

“Complaints about the way councils handled complaints accounted for 18 per cent of the complaints made about councils.”

Victorian Ombudsman

Complaints about the way councils handled complaints accounted for 18 per cent of the complaints made about councils.

The most complained about Metropolitan Council  was Melbourne City Council, with 132 complaints made against it in 2019-18, followed by Moreland City Council (126), Moonee Valley City Council (118), Glen Eira City Council (106) and Maribyrnong City Council (103).

Greater Geelong topped the regional city register with 112 complaints. Hume City Council and Whittlesea City Council had 106 complaints each.

Whistleblower complaints double

The office of the Ombudsman, which exists to ensure fairness in dealings with the public sector and improve public administration, recorded the second highest ever number of complaints over the last 12 months.

More than 45,000 people contacted the office and 16,072 complaints were dealt with.

Source: Victorian Ombudsman Annual Report 2020

Whistleblower have almost doubled in the last three years, with the Annual Report, tabled in parliament in December showing public interest matters referred to the watchdog are up 96 per cent since 2018/17.

The figures likely reflect changes that came into effect from the beginning of last year beefing up whistleblower protections in the state.

Public interest disclosures remain high in NSW

Meanwhile the NSW Ombudsman’s Oversight of the Public Interest Disclosures Act 1994 shows NSW public officials made 949 reports in the 2019-20 financial year.

Two thirds of those were made to ICAC by heads of public sector agencies. Agencies received 383 reports of internal wrongdoing with 85 per cent of those including an allegation of corrupt conduct.

Source: NSW Ombudsman

The report, released late last month, shows there were slightly fewer public interest disclosures in 2019-20 than the previous year, but the ombudsman says reporting remains consistent with a longer-term trend of increased reporting.

“This year’s report again shows how important it is for public officials to speak up when they see wrongdoing, and for them to be confident that, if they do, they will be supported,” Acting Ombudsman Paul Miller said.

Legislation to reform NSW whistleblower protection laws, the oldest in Australia, is expected to be introduced at some stage and Mr Miller said it was important the Bill was finalised as soon as possible.

“I look forward to new legislation that better supports a culture where public officials are encouraged to report serious wrongdoing with full confidence that they will be protected if they do so,” he said.

A parliamentary committee has recommended strengthening protection for public officials who report wrongdoing to journalists.

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