The Office of the Ombudsman issued its Statement of Intent yesterday, setting out what they plan to do over the next five years. we’ve been hearing a lot recently about how the office is failing to deal with the deluge of complaints it must now handle, and the Statement of Intent confirms it. Here’s their projected performance targets for handling OIA complaints:
Spot the difference: their budget target – on which their budget is based – underestimates demand by 75% or more. It’s a similar story for Ombudsman’s act complaints: they have a target of 8,000 contacts/complaints a year, and they’re actually dealing with 11,000. Which is why people are waiting years to have their complaints resolved. Further down they note that
there is a risk we will not be able to meet stakeholder expectations of the time taken to complete the complaints and other contacts we receive.
Timeliness is often critical to complainants and significant failures in this regard carry the risk that people will choose not to turn to us or, if they do, the outcomes we can achieve will not be relevant, useful or appropriate.
No shit. OIA requests are often highly time sensitive. If you have to wait two to five years to get an effective response, there’s simply no point asking. And that has unpleasant implications, not just for transparency, but for confidence in our system of government overall.
But its not just complaint-handling which is underfunded. The Ombudsman also has a vital role in inspecting places of detention to ensure that detention conditions are humane. And there the targets are similarly dismal. They have a target that only 80% of their recommendations in this area are accepted. Given that these are recommendations to end inhumane treatment, I’d expect that target to be 100%. Then there’s this:
There are also approximately an additional 130 aged care facilities with dementia units that may fall within our designation in respect of health and disability places of detention. If so, we would need to seek additional funding in order to conduct regular inspections of these facilities.
Yes, they’re not even funded to inspect every class of detention facility – which means inhumane treatment may be going undetected and uncorrected.
These are serious problems. And the root cause behind most of them seems to be underfunding. The Ombudsman is our watchdog against the government. If we want it to do that job effectively, its needs to be funded properly. But what politician would ever want to do that?