News and views from integrity organisations in the Pacific and Australasia
ISSUE 10 : DECEMBER 2022
Wominjeka | Welcome to this edition of Waka Tangata
Warm Pacific greetings to you all, and Wominjeka, which is the greeting used by the Wurundjeri people, the traditional owners of the Aboriginal land on which my office is located in Naarm (Melbourne), Australia. It is a beautiful word which means more than welcome, it means coming with purpose.
We came with purpose to Wellington in October for our first in-person meeting in three years and to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the New Zealand Ombudsman’s Office. Congratulations again to our colleagues in Aotearoa New Zealand for this milestone – the first of its kind not only in the region, but in the Westminster system – and for the leadership the office has shown to the region in this time.
While not everyone was able to join us in person – and we are thankful for the technology that allows us still to be together – it was wonderful to see colleagues not on a screen. The warm hospitality of our hosts made all the petty hassles of travel worthwhile. And I am sure everyone would agree that we left the conference with fresh insights, both into the work of our colleagues and the challenges we share.
A highlight of the conference was Sir Brian Elwood and Dame Beverley Wakem being made Honorary Life Members of the International Ombudsman Institute (IOI). My warmest congratulations and heartfelt thanks to them for their outstanding service to our global Ombudsman network.
While we were in Wellington I invited colleagues to the next APOR conference to be held in Melbourne in 2023, which will coincide with my office’s 50th anniversary. More details will follow – including saving the date – early in 2023.
We had a good discussion about training needs at our Members’ meeting after the conference, and I am happy to confirm the IOI has approved using the remaining 2021/2022 regional subsidy for the Pacific Ombudsman Train the Trainer Workshop. Training is being prepared by our New Zealand colleagues to be delivered in Suva in March 2023.
As we did in Wellington, I want to take the opportunity to recognise our dear colleague 'Aisea Taumoepeau SC, whose term finishes early in 2023. 'Aisea has been one of the great stalwarts of the region for many years, and we will all miss him. Go well, 'Aisea.
Now we come with purpose in this edition of Waka Tangata to foster the community of learning and sharing we have in the Australasia and Pacific Ombudsman Region. I hope you enjoy it, and welcome any feedback!
APOR Regional President
Victorian Ombudsman, Australia
APOR conference and Members’ meeting
APOR Ombudsmen meet in Wellington. Standing L to R: Inspector-General and Taxation Ombudsman Karen Payne (Aus), Commonwealth Ombudsman Iain Anderson (Aus), Provedoria Nina Gomes (Timor-Leste), Hong Kong Ombudsman Winnie Chiu, Tonga Ombudsman ‘Aisea Taumoepeau KC, South Australian Ombudsman Wayne Lines, Samoan Deputy Ombudsman Maualaivao Seiuli. Seated L to R: Papua New Guinea Chief Ombudsman Richard Pagen, former NZ Chief Ombudsman Dame Beverley Wakem, Western Australian Ombudsman and IOI President Chris Field, NZ Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier, Victorian Ombudsman and APOR President Deborah Glass OBE, Cook Islands Ombudsman Niki Rattle, Control Yuan President Chen Chu (Taiwan)
The IOI Australasia & Pacific Region (APOR) held a conference on 13 October 2022 and its 34th annual Members’ meeting on 14 October 2022 in Wellington, New Zealand.
The conference was co-hosted by Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass OBE as Regional President, and New Zealand Chief Ombudsman and IOI 2nd Vice President Peter Boshier. The conference theme was Remaining relevant and getting government to listen. The programme included panel sessions on: engaging with civil society while remaining independent; investigating corruption or interacting with those who do; and influencing government while remaining above the political fray.
The conference dinner marked a special occasion with the presentation of Honorary Life Memberships of the IOI to former New Zealand Chief Ombudsmen and former IOI Presidents Sir Brian Elwood and Dame Beverley Wakem.
From L to R: Chief Ombudsman of New Zealand Peter Boshier, former New Zealand Chief Ombudsman Dame Beverley Wakem, IOI President and Western Australian Ombudsman Chris Field, former New Zealand Chief Ombudsman Sir Brian Elwood, Victorian Ombudsman and APOR President Deborah Glass
At their meeting Members agreed to issue a Communiqué from APOR, reaffirming the Venice Principles and the Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on the role of the Ombudsman.
Iain Anderson was appointed as the 11th Commonwealth and Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Ombudsman on 1 August. Iain has a wealth of experience as a senior public servant with 32 years of service. He has developed and implemented transformational change across a wide range of legal and social policy areas, including the Commonwealth civil justice and criminal justice systems, family law, native title, Royal Commissions and Australia's territories in his various roles, most recently within the Attorney General’s Department. Iain has appeared numerous times before parliamentary committees, represented Australia at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Affairs, and led Australia's delegation to the Financial Action Taskforce.
Assistant Ombudsman Aboriginal Engagement and Collaboration, Office of the Ombudsman of Western Australia
Laurence Riley commenced as Assistant Ombudsman Aboriginal Engagement and Collaboration at the Office of the Ombudsman of Western Australia in August. Laurence is the first person to hold this position in the fifty-year history of the office. Laurence is a Noongar man from the Wilmen, Menang, Kenang and Ballardong Clan groups of the Noongar nation. A key member of the Corporate Executive, the Assistant Ombudsman leads an Aboriginal Engagement and Collaboration Team as well as the office’s national and international engagement with first nations and first peoples.
Deputy Ombudsman of Tasmania
In November, Clare Hopkins was appointed Deputy Ombudsman of Tasmania – the first person to hold this role in over 20 years. A qualified legal practitioner, Clare has extensive experience working for the Ombudsman in both Northern Territory and Tasmania jurisdictions. She was Principal Officer, Ombudsman in the Office of the Ombudsman of Tasmania for the last eight years. In her new position Clare holds full delegations from Ombudsman Tasmania Richard Connock and deputises for him, as required. Clare has responsibility for the Ombudsman, Energy Ombudsman and Right to Information jurisdictions and manages the major investigation work of the Ombudsman.
Reappointment of Solomon Islands Ombudsman
In June, Fred Fakarii was reappointed Solomon Islands Ombudsman for a term of five years.
New Zealand Ombudsman
60 years of the Ombudsman in New Zealand
Past and present New Zealand Ombudsmen with the New Zealand Minister for the Public Service, Hon Chris Hipkins, from L to R: Leo Donnelly ONZM, Sir Anand Satyanand, David McGee CNZM QC, Chief Ombudsman New Zealand Peter Boshier, Minister Hipkins, Dame Beverley Wakem and Sir Brian Elwood.
The Ombudsman New Zealand was established on 1 October 1962, the first Ombudsman’s office outside of Scandinavia. The 60th anniversary was celebrated at a Parliamentary event on 12 October, hosted by the Minister for the Public Service Hon Chris Hipkins. Special guests included IOI President and Western Australian Ombudsman Chris Field and Ombudsmen from Australia, Asia and the Pacific. Former New Zealand Ombudsmen Sir Anand Satyanand, Dame Beverley Wakem, Sir Brian Elwood, Leo Donnelly and David McGee QC also attended.
From left: IOI President and Western Australian Ombudsman Chris Field, Chief Ombudsman for New Zealand and IOI Second Vice-President Peter Boshier and New Zealand Minister for the Public Service Hon Chris Hipkins.
Launch of new international section on Ombudsman New Zealand website
This week the New Zealand Office of the Ombudsman launched a new section on its website to profile its international work programme and provide a space to share resources and regional updates. Resources include training videos and webinars, along with others that may be of interest to fellow Ombudsmen. More resources will be added over time. If you have any feedback on the content, or suggestions for future content, please email [email protected]
The New Zealand Ombudsman has recently published a number of significant reports into government compliance with the Official Information Act and on failures of administration at Oranga Tamariki Ministry for Children leading to the death of five year old boy Malachi Subecz.
Chris Field, International Ombudsman Institute President and Western Australian Ombudsman and Dr Ákos Kozma, Commissioner for Fundamental Rights of Hungary
Ombudsman Chris Field, in his capacity as President of the IOI, undertook an official visit to Hungary. Amongst other official engagements, he attended border crossing points at the Hungarian-Romanian and Hungarian-Ukrainian borders and was privileged to meet many first responders, all of whom have played a vital role in ensuring the well-being of refugees escaping the Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine.
In October, the Ombudsman tabled in Parliament two own-motion investigation reports.
‘Paint for Human Rights’ – 2022 Poster Design Competition
To promote public awareness of human rights, the National Human Rights Commission of the Control Yuan ran an inaugural ‘Paint for Human Rights’ – 2022 Poster Design Competition from July to September.
Designers and students were encouraged to participate and incorporate the theme of the universal value of human rights in their poster design. The event aimed to boost understanding of human rights issues by Taiwanese people through the viewing of these posters.
The competition received a total of 718 submissions. Entries demonstrated wide-ranging knowledge and understanding of human rights issues, covering diverse topics, including: caring for children; defending the right to freedom of expression; the right to life; people with disabilities; and gender equality, as well as the prohibition of sexual exploitation, human trafficking, and forced labour.
The final 62 selected works were released on the event website on 1 November. The Control Yuan invites you to enjoy these works and reflect on the human rights issues they highlight.
The Hong Kong Ombudsman launched its new website with a responsive design in October, giving the office a vivid online presence. The new navigation allows visitors to access and search for information more effectively. The Ombudsman has also refreshed its corporate videos to build its brand and introduce its role and functions.
While local school activities gradually resume normality, the Hong Kong Ombudsman reached out to schools to communicate with youths directly through talks. The Ombudsman’s office also held regular briefings and exchange sessions with government departments to further enhance mutual understanding.
Ombudsman’s Awards recognise public service
In November, the Ombudsman hosted the annual Ombudsman’s Awards Ceremony. The Awards aim to acknowledge professionalism in handling complaints and foster a positive culture of service in the public sector.
In September 2020, the Office of the Commonwealth and Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Ombudsman published a report, Did They Do What They Said They Would?, which reviewed the work of multiple agencies to implement recommendations made in reports published by the office between July 2017 and June 2019.
A second report on agencies’ implementation of recommendations made by the Ombudsman in reports published during the period 1 July 2019 and 30 June 2021 was released in October 2022. The review showed that agencies are making improvements and doing things differently because of the Ombudsman’s recommendations. Overall, it was found that 92 percent of accepted recommendations were implemented or partially implemented.
Strengthening partnerships and promoting proactive engagement with parliamentarians
Parliamentarians including Speaker of Parliament Hon. Afioga Papali’i Li’o Taeu Masipa’u (front row, third from left) and Leader of the Opposition, the Hon. Afioga Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi (front row, third from right) meet with the Ombudsman of Samoa and staff (back row)
Samoa Ombudsman held its 2nd Dialogue with parliamentarians on human rights and good governance in September. The three-day Dialogue targeted Members of Parliament who have direct engagement with the work of the Ombudsman’s Office, particularly the parliamentary committee tasked to review and scrutinise the office’s investigation and annual State of Human Rights Reports. The event was attended by the Honorable Speaker of Parliament, Afioga Papali’i Li’o Taeu Masipa’u, Leader of the Opposition, Honorable Afioga Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, and parliamentarians from across other parliamentary committees. Ombudsman Afioga Luamanuvao Katalaina Sapolu highlighted the unique role of parliamentarians as guardians of human rights and good governance in the country.
Part of the Dialogue focused on raising awareness of the mandated role and functions of the Ombudsman and where these connect with the three branches of government. The office also shared the process of its work and highlighted how parliamentary committees can engage in this process, such as their ability to refer matters to the Ombudsman for investigation and debating the State of Human Rights Reports. The outcomes of this Dialogue will inform future engagement with parliamentarians.
Complaints handling and investigations training for OLOs
Samoa Ombudsman Luamanavao Katalaina Sapolu (front row, third from left) and New Zealand Ombudsman Peter Boshier (front row, centre), staff and Ombudsman Liaison Officers
In September, nominated Ombudsman Liaison Officers (OLOs) from various government agencies participated in complaints handling and investigations training co-facilitated by the Offices of the Ombudsman of Samoa and New Zealand. This coincided with an official visit by New Zealand Ombudsman Peter Boshier to Samoa.
OLOs are senior officers who handle the agencies’ internal and external complaints.
The establishment of OLOs is part of Phase 2 of the proactive Ombudsmanship Rollout, a project that proposes arrangements between the Office of the Ombudsman and government agencies to assist the Ombudsman with discharging statutory obligations. It focuses mainly on the conventional functions of the Ombudsman and aims to:
raise awareness within agencies of the role of the Ombudsman as an external complaints handler;
provide support and advice to agencies in establishing and strengthening their own complaints handling systems; and
develop working relationships – making OLOs the initial point of contact between the Ombudsman and agencies when a relevant case or complaint arises.
Since 2018 about 30 public agencies have participated and nominated OLOs. This is an ongoing project of the Ombudsman Samoa, spearheaded by its investigation arm.
Increasing awareness about the work of the Office of the Samoa Ombudsman and how the public can access its services is paramount and a key communication goal in its Communications & Outreach Strategy 2021/2025. ‘Ombuds Week’ is a new initiative to support this. It consists of a week full of promotional activities including information sessions with government ministries and various communities, radio and TV promotions, as well as social media activity.
‘Ombuds Week’ resulted in 29 general queries and four potential complaints received from the general public. Following the success of the first ‘Ombuds Week’ it is planned to make it a regular event to demonstrate the value of the Ombudsman’s work.
Mobile outreach serves people in villages
Director of Investigation Roman Vaihu offering brochures to a church minister in one of the small villages of Fatai, on the western side of Tongatapu.
Tonga’s Office of the Ombudsman has embarked on a new initiative of mobile outreach programmes (MOP) to better facilitate public access to its services in outer villages.
Six MOPs covering about 25 smaller villages in Tongatapu were carried out weekly during August and September. The villages were selected based on their remoteness and where people did not commonly present in previous district outreaches.
The four-member outreach team used an office shuttle as the hub for their mobile Ombudsman ‘clinics’, parking up on roadsides and waiting for people to come forward. Public notices on radio alerted people to the date and time of the arrival of the OMB-4 shuttle in each village.
The mobile team members engaged face-to-face with members of the public, including women making tapa or weaving, teachers and students in primary and secondary schools, youth, construction workers and those working on plantations. With the cooperation of district and town officers, they explained the Ombudsman’s services, recorded complaints and attended to other queries. Village church leaders agreed to distribute the office’s brochures to their congregations.
There was a favourable response to the mobile outreach initiative. MOPs to other villages in Tongatapu will continue next year, as well as to the outer islands.
Ombudsman Commission PNG
Amalgamation grants paid in full after OC intervention
The Divine Word University (DWU) received its full amalgamation grants from the National Government after a mediation between the Ombudsman Commission PNG, the DWU Council and the Department of Higher Education Research Science and Technology.
The mediation was mainly to address a planned fee increase by the university and to explore ways the university could avoid passing the costs to the parents. Chief Ombudsman Richard Pagen led the mediation.
The meeting resulted in two outcomes: the fee hike was put on hold, allowing students to enrol at the previous years’ fees; and the Government paid the full amalgamation grants for the university of K24 Million for 2021 and 2022.
The DWU has written to the Commission to express its gratitude for its assistance in ensuring commitments made by the government to the universities were met in time and hopes the assistance continues into the future.
OC assists widow to recover property title
A widow received the best Christmas gift in December when she was awarded the title for her property in Lae, Morobe Province, something she lost to fraudulent activities by certain National Housing officers.
Mrs Ellen Tigia Bis said she had nothing but praise for the Ombudsman Commission after the Commission’s intervention set in motion the recovery of her title. The woman began her battle for her property title in 1999. Two years ago she went to the media to appeal to the Housing Minister Justin Tkatchenko to revoke the title after it was being fraudulently transferred to another Housing officer. However, she did not get the assistance needed until she approached the Ombudsman Commission.
She was surprised when Mr Tkatchenko and National Housing Corporation Managing Director Henry Mokono invited her to pick up the title in person in Port Moresby in the presence of the media. The Ombudsman Commission officers, staff and management of NHC, and the Minister witnessed the occasion. Mrs Tigia Bis says it was bittersweet moment as she wished her husband who had started the process with her was there to share it.
Ombudsman South Australia
Ombudsman SA celebrates 50th anniversary
2022 marks the 50th anniversary of the Ombudsman South Australia (SA). The Ombudsman Act 1972 was assented to on 23 November 1972 and the office opened its doors to the public on 14 December 1972. At that time, South Australia was only the second Australian jurisdiction after Western Australia to install a parliamentary Ombudsman (although South Australia was the first to use the title ‘Ombudsman’). The inaugural Ombudsman SA was Mr Gordon Combe. In his first annual report in 1973, Mr Combe recorded that in the first six months of operation his office had received 308 complaints and he had recruited six staff. Fast forward 50 years and Ombudsman SA receives thousands of complaints each year and has 30 staff. Ombudsman SA has proven itself to be adaptable to an ever changing public administration environment and looks forward to continuing its service to South Australians in the years ahead.
Overview of the Department for Health and Wellbeing’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic
Ombudsman SA Wayne Lines has published this letter to the new Chief Executive of South Australia’s Department for Health and Wellbeing (the department). The letter provides the Ombudsman’s own-initiative overview of the department’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic response. It identifies learnings for any future heath emergencies that South Australia may face.
Number of COVID-19 related complaints more than doubles in 12 months
On 7 September, the New South Wales Ombudsman published its second report into complaints received during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Office received 1,046 actionable complaints over the 2021-22 financial year. When compared with the 463 actionable complaints received during the previous year, this equates to an increase of about 125 per cent.
The largest driver of the increase was complaints made by those involved in the correctional system (both inmates and staff). These people were less affected by the pandemic during the 2020-21 financial year, compared with the following year. This is most likely due to the relaxation of social distancing measures during the second year of the pandemic.
The Ombudsman of New South Wales has also recently released its 2021-22 annual report. The report highlights some of the changes experienced by the Office during the 2021-22 financial year, including the additional power to: review the complaint-handling systems of public authorities; facilitate professional conciliation services; and monitor a regime where individuals can be ‘forced’ to participate in testing for specific diseases in certain circumstances, for example, if they potentially expose a public authority to a disease.
Queensland Ombudsman to monitor places of detention
The Inspector of Detention Services Act 2022 (IDS Act) seeks to improve detention services with a focus on promoting the humane treatment of detainees and prevention of harm. The IDS Act was passed by the Queensland Parliament on 30 August 2022.
Under the IDS Act, the Queensland Ombudsman will have a new and additional role, the Inspector of Detention Services. The IDS Act will commence on a date to be fixed by proclamation.
The path towards a National Human Rights Institute
In August, Te Mato Akamoeau (TMA) Cook Islands Ombudsman partnered with the Asia Pacific Forum (APF) to facilitate a two-day National Human Rights Institute (NHRI) Stakeholder Dialogue. This brought together a diverse range of participants from the public service, private sector, and civil society and also included traditional leaders and members of the Religious Advisory Council.
The Dialogue marked the beginning of TMA’s journey towards establishing a National Human Rights Institute within its mandate. A key objective was to identify whether there was a community need for this function. Feedback from participants confirmed that there is support for it.
Participants in the Cook Islands National Human Rights Institute Stakeholder Dialogue
From there, work began on required legislative amendments. TMA’s Compliance Lead has been working closely with the Cook Islands Crown Law Office and legal experts from APF to develop a policy document, as well as amendments to the Cook Islands Ombudsman Act 1984.
Human Rights Community Lead Development Workshop
In November, representatives from TMA, Cook Islands Family Welfare Association and Cook Islands National Youth Council participated in a Human Rights Community Lead Development Workshop hosted by the APF in Lautoka, Fiji. The workshop focused on how to equip communities with the skills and knowledge to lead their human rights development. It was also attended by representatives of the Ofisa o Le Komesina Sulufaiga (Samoa Ombudsman | NHRI), Fiji Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission, Samoa Family Health Association, Samoa Fa'afafine Association, Fiji Disabled Peoples Federation, Fiji Council of Social Services and Pacific Community (SPC).
June to December 2022 was a predictably busy time for the Victorian Ombudsman as reflected in its latest annual report. Jurisdictional complaints were up almost 5 percent on last year to a record 18,877 and over 91 percent of the complaints were resolved within 30 days.
The Ombudsman’s new conciliation function delivered productive outcomes for complainants and agencies alike, with overwhelmingly positive feedback from both.
Public interest (whistleblower) complaints continued unabated, although the number of formal investigations reduced as more of these matters were concluded efficiently using less formal enquiry powers.
In July 2022, the Ombudsman published its first joint investigation report with the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC). The investigation, ‘Operation Watts’, focused on allegations of serious corrupt conduct involving Victorian public officers, including Members of Parliament. All recommendations were accepted immediately, highlighting the benefits of a ‘watchdog pack’ working together. Once implemented, these recommendations will mark the most significant integrity reforms in Victoria in a generation.
In July, the Ombudsman also published an investigation into complaint handling in the Victorian social housing sector, highlighting the experiences of public and community housing tenants navigating a complex system.
The office’s final report for 2022 examined the implementation of the Ombudsman’s recommendations spanning two years when the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic undoubtedly contributed to inequality, disadvantage and vulnerability.
‘I do not make large numbers of recommendations and I make none of them lightly,’ says Ombudsman Deborah Glass. ‘I am proud of what they have achieved in collaboration with public sector leaders in pursuit of better administration and, ultimately, public confidence in government and its services.’ Recent reports