Friday, April 19, 2024

Half century for Victorian Ombudsman

This year marks a significant milestone for the Victorian Ombudsman, with the lead parliamentary integrity agency set to celebrate its 50th anniversary in October.

Victorian Ombudsman, Deborah Glass said despite the Office reaching a half century of service, its purpose as the state’s lead agency committed to fairness, integrity and respect for human rights; and holding Victorian public organisations accountable for delivery of their services, remained the same.

“As inaugural ombudsman Sir John Vincent Dillon said in his first Quarterly Report 50 years ago: ‘The very essence of his office demands that he be non-partisan, independent and judicial in his treatment and investigation of complaints. The office really combines the judicial functions of a judge or magistrate and the administrative functions of an inquisitor’,” said Ms Glass.

“While our language today would not be gendered, that essence remains at the heart of the work we do. Every Victorian Ombudsman since has been committed to that ambition. To investigate grievances and where practicable, to have errors acknowledged and corrected. To redress the imbalance of power between the individual and the State. Not to take sides but to present a fair and independent perspective. And that is the same for a complaint affecting one individual as it is for the most egregious and systemic.”

Several events are planned to mark the occasion through the year including a report covering the 50-year history of the Ombudsman and hosting the Australasian and Pacific Ombudsman Region Conference in October.

The 50th anniversary provides a timely opportunity to celebrate the extraordinary work the Ombudsman has done over 50 years, highlighting the breadth of the Office’s impact, the Ombudsman said.

“Victoria’s second Ombudsman, Charles Norman Geschke, epitomised the role of the office in redressing the imbalance of power. In his last report to Parliament in 1994 he described saving the wooden kiosk at Clifton Hill station, so that the lady kiosk operator did not have to sell her wares from a portable trolley at 6 am in the Melbourne winter. No problem with the bureaucracy was too small, no bureaucrat too mighty, for the Ombudsman’s attention,” said Ms Glass.

“How do you measure the impact of an agency like the Victorian Ombudsman? The complaints resolved or conciliated, the investigations undertaken, the human rights considered, the laws, regulations and policies changed, and most importantly, the people heard, and public administration improved.

As one complainant to the office put it: ‘Maybe the complaint will not be formally investigated or be ‘tabled in parliament’ but at least the Ombudsman will be able to decide if it is fair,” she said.

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