I, as the accountable authority of the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman (the Office), present the 2018–19 Annual Performance Statement of the Office, as required under paragraph 39(1) (a) of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (PGPA Act). In my opinion, this annual performance statement is based on properly maintained records, accurately reflects the performance of the entity, and complies with subsection 39(2) of the PGPA Act.
Michael Manthorpe PSM
This annual performance statement provides details of the Office’s performance against the
measures in our 2018–19 Portfolio Budget Statement and our 2018–19 Corporate Plan.
Our outcome for this period is ‘Fair and accountable administrative action by Australian Government entities and prescribed private sector organisations, by investigating complaints, reviewing administrative action and statutory compliance inspections and reporting’.1
Our purpose is to:
Provide assurance that the Australian Government entities and prescribed private sector organisations that the Office oversights act with integrity and treat people fairly.
Influence enduring systemic improvement in public administration in Australia and the region. Our 2018–19 objectives reflected our activities towards achieving our purpose and outcome.
The Office has established 12 Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that enabled the measurement of our performance in achieving our outcome. The results and subsequent analysis of our performance are presented within this statement.
2018–19 Office Results
Our activities towards our objectives and purpose yielded the following end of 2018–19 financial year results:
One of the ways in which we measured our achievements against Objective 1 is through recommendations the Office made in public reports being accepted by the entities to which we made them. In providing oversight of government entities public administration and complaint-handling systems this Office can identify and report on the effectiveness of government programs and systems. The Office published four reports in 2018–19, and made 32 recommendations within the reports. All 32 recommendations were accepted by the various agencies:
Investigation into the Actions and Decisions of the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (DVA) in Relation to Mr A—the six recommendations made by this Office were accepted by DVA.
Centrelink’s Automated Debt Raising and Recovery System—the four recommendations made by this Office were accepted by the Department of Human Services.
Public statement about a reportable conduct investigation—the seven recommendations made by this Office were accepted by the ACT Education Directorate.
Preventing the immigration detention of Australian citizens—the 15 recommendations made by this Office were accepted by the Department of Home Affairs.
Of note is the Office finalising its first investigation into an organisation’s handling of an allegation of reportable conduct under the ACT Reportable Conduct Scheme in October 2018. This investigation concerned the ACT Education Directorate and the Ombudsman made seven general recommendations relating to how the Directorate fulfils its obligations under the scheme. The Ombudsman published a statement about the investigation on the basis that many of the issues identified in the investigation would be of interest to other organisations covered by the scheme. The Office noted the Education Directorate’s assistance and cooperation during this investigation and is working with the Directorate to support its implementation of the recommendations.
In April 2018, the Office published a report titled ‘Review of Australia Post complaints about carding, Safe Drop and compensation’. The report made six recommendations to Australia Post highlighting areas where performance could be improved. The Office is monitoring the recommendations and in June 2019 published a report titled ‘Follow-up report on Australia Post’s response to the Ombudsman’s recommendations. A report on Australia Post’s implementation of the Commonwealth Ombudsman recommendations from review of Australia Post complaints about carding, safe drop and compensation (April 2018)’. The Office is of the view that Australia Post has made significant progress in addressing the report recommendations. We also note the number of actions already underway will take time to fully implement. The Office will continue to monitor the implementation process.
Stakeholder engagement is another way the Office measures achievements against Objective 1. Engagement activities enable this Office to work directly with government and private sector entities and community stakeholders to support purposeful and meaningful public administration and complaint-handling systems. We obtain feedback from the stakeholders to help ensure our engagement is appropriate and useful. In 2018–19, the Office delivered 21 engagement activities with 472 stakeholder participants providing survey responses, of which 452 were ‘satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’. Engagement activities included:
One of the main functions of the Office is to receive and assess complaints and other contacts about the actions of Australian and ACT Government agencies and prescribed private sector organisations we oversee. Objective 2 is focussed on how we handle complaints we receive about Commonwealth and ACT Government agencies, while our private sector complaint and dispute resolution process is part of Objective 4.
In 2018–19, we have measured our complaint-handling service by the timeliness of number of complaints and other contacts finalised within service standards. For that period, our service standards were as follows:
The Office is challenged each year by large volumes of complaints and other contacts. This year we finalised 27,061 government complaints and other contacts (for example contacts about matters outside of our jurisdiction, and other enquiries to our Office, such as FOI applications or media enquiries). Of those complaints and other contacts, 24,009 were finalised within the above service standards. This success can in part be attributed to a focus during the year on streamlining our processes through the application of lean methodology. For example, we identified and removed numerous instances of duplication and inefficient practice, and restructured our complaints management teams to realise more efficiencies by grouping like tasks together.
The Office continues to look for ways to further improve complaint-handling processes across the Office, consistent with the lean focus on continuous improvement. This includes streamlining processes to improve the timeliness of assessments and subsequent recommendations in the assessment of reports of abuse under the Defence Reparation Scheme, and assessments under s 486O of the Migration Act 1958 of the circumstances of people held in immigration detention.
For 2019–20, the Office is developing new service standards for each of our different complaint-handling and similar roles. Based on confidence intervals, these standards will provide greater transparency as to the likely amount of time particular processes will take, recognising that there are different processes for each of our different functions.
The Office also notes that timeliness is only one component of a successful complaint-handling service. For 2019–20 and beyond, we have expanded our KPI framework to complement timeliness measures with a measure of complainant satisfaction. We are also looking at other ways to measure the effectiveness of our service by reference to the outcomes we achieve.
The Office has an important role in providing oversight of and reporting on the PID scheme in meeting Objective 3. Under the Public Disclosure Act 2013 the Office must use best endeavours to decide the allocation of a disclosure within 14 days after the disclosure is made to an authorised officer. Of the 63 disclosures received in 2018–19, 17 matters were allocated within 14 days while the remaining were allocated using best endeavours. Allocation decision that took longer than 14 days were due to various reasons including the complexity of the matter, waiting for further information from the discloser and awaiting for agencies to accept an allocation.
As part of the reworking of our KPI framework for 2019–20, we have developed additional service standards which will apply to our PID functions.
The Office is responsible for overseeing approximately 20 law enforcement agencies and their use of certain covert and intrusive powers as parliament intended. Under certain legislation including Telecommunications (Interception and Access) 1979 (TIA), Surveillance Devices Act 2004 (Cth) and Crimes Act 1914 (Cth) the Office can inspect records and investigate practices of law enforcement agencies.
The Surveillance Devices Act and Chapter 2 of the TIA Act both set out specific timeframes within which the Ombudsman is required to provide the Minister with reports about the Office’s inspection activities during the relevant period. KPI 5 measures the Office’s performance against these statutory requirements. Other inspection regimes have less prescriptive reporting requirements— see KPI 6.
In 2018–19, the Office met the statutory requirements in relation to law enforcement in finalising two Surveillance Devices six monthly reports (finalised in September 2018 and March 2019) and the Telecommunications Interceptions 2017–18 annual report (finalised in September 2018) within the statutory timeframes.
Another of our oversight functions in achieving Objective 3 is the finalising of public law enforcement reports within statutory or Office standards. KPI 6 reflects the Office’s overall performance in publicly reporting on its law enforcement compliance functions, by including both those reports with statutory timeframes (included at KPI 5) and those reports that are due to the Minister ‘as soon as practicable’ after 30 June of the relevant year. For this second group of reports, the Office has applied an internal timeliness standard of three months; that is, by 30 September of the relevant year.
In 2018–19 the Office finalised three public law enforcement reports within the statutory timeframe while another three reports were not completed within the internal timeliness standard. This was due to resourcing issues within the team which carried over from 2017–18. We do not anticipate similar difficulties in 2019–20.
In addition to these high level public reports, as soon as possible following each inspection the Office provides the agency with a written report that sets out our observations and findings and, where appropriate, makes suggestions or recommendations for improvement. While our current performance measures do not specifically address the timeliness of these agency reports, we recognise this is a core element of the Office’s inspection role and we intend to apply and track internal timeliness standards in 2019–20.
Reports finalised within the statutory/Office standards:
Surveillance Devices six monthly report (January–June 2018)–due 30 September 2018, finalised 25 September 2018–within statutory timeframe
Telecommunications Interceptions 2017–18 annual report–due 30 September 2018, finalised 25 September 2018–within statutory timeframe
Surveillance Devices six monthly report (July–December 2018)–due 31 March 2019, finalised 29 March 2019–within statutory timeframe
Reports not finalised within the statutory/Office standards:
Chapters 3 and 4 of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979—for the period 1 July 2017 to 30 June 2018, due as soon as practicable after 30 June 2018, finalised March 2019—outside internal timeliness standard
Part V of the Australian Federal Police Act 1979—for the period 1 July 2017 to 30 June 2018, due as soon as practicable after 30 June 2018, finalised May 2019—outside internal timeliness standard
Annual report under Part IAB of the Crimes Act 1914—for the period 1 July 2017 to 30 June 2018, due as soon as practicable after 30 June 2018, not yet completed—outside internal timeliness standard.
The Office provides oversight and assurance in the area of long term detention. The Migration Act 1958 requires the Office to review the cases of people held in immigration detention for two years or more. Section 486N of the Act requires the Department of Home Affairs to provide a report to this Office within 21 days of a person being in detention for two years (if a person remains in detention, the department must provide new reports to this Office every six months). This Office will provide the Immigration Minister with an assessment of the appropriateness of the person’s detention arrangements under s 486O of the Act.
Of the 1,034 reports which formed the basis of our assessments sent to the Minister in 2018–19, the Office provided assessments in relation to 1,001 reports within 12 months of receiving the report. In recognition of the importance of this oversight, the team’s Assurance Branch invested additional resources in the statutory reporting team to ensure the timeliness and quality of its assessments.
In late 2018–19 the Office undertook a review of its statutory reporting function using lean methodology, to identify ways in which the process could be streamlined to provide clearer and timelier reports. We anticipate seeing the benefits of this approach in 2019–20.
The Office conducts regular inspections of the immigration detention centres under the Ombudsman’s own motion powers. This is in accordance with our jurisdiction to consider the actions of Commonwealth agencies and their subcontractors. As soon as possible following each inspection we provide immigration detention staff with a post-visit report that sets out our observations and, where appropriate, makes suggestions for improvement.
The Office’s target is to issue a State of the Network report within three months of the reporting cycle (January 2018 to June 2018 and July 2018 to December 2018). These reports consolidate our observations from each of the inspections conducted during the reporting period.
The report for the January 2018 to June 2018 cycle was issued on 6 November 2018 which was after the 30 September 2018 deadline. However, the report for the July 2018 to December 2018 cycle was issued on 26 March 2019 within the three month deadline, and we do not anticipate delays in future reporting cycles.
One of the ways the Office fulfils Objective 4 is through the provision of private health
insurance consumer information. A key platform to achieve this is through the consumer website privatehealth.gov.au, which provides independent private health insurance information and the ability to compare policies available from every Australian health insurer. The Office measures consumer satisfaction with the website. The Office was narrowly below target on KPI 9 (two per cent below target) with 348 of 447 survey respondents indicating satisfied or very satisfied with the quality of information on the consumer website privatehealth.gov.au.
As part of the government’s private health insurance reforms, the Office launched a redeveloped website on 1 April 2019. The updated website included, information on the private health insurance reforms, an improved policy search and compare function, a simpler Private Health Information Statement (PHIS), a new premium estimator and an updated look and feel, including compatibility with mobile devices.
The Office will continue to explore ways to improve the website user experience in future years.
The Office seeks to finalise complaints within Office service standards for its industry complaint-handling functions. In 2018–19, we measured our complaint-handling by the timeliness of the number of complaints finalised within service standards. For the period, our service standards were as follows:
In our industry ombudsman roles, we handle complaints:
from international (overseas) students with private education providers
from students about VET FEE-HELP or VET Student Loans debt
from consumers about the following postal operators:
FedEx Australia (Federal Express Australia)
D and D Mailing Services.
about a health insurance arrangement from:
health fund members
Across these functions the Office closed 15,574 complaints in 2018–19. Of those, 10,799 were closed within Office service standards.
The Office finalised 7,146 private health insurance complaints of which 6,756 were closed within Office service standards (95 per cent). The Office prioritised timeliness in its private health insurance complaint-handling processes in 2018–19, resulting in an improved outcome. This outcome was also reflected in client survey results, with 83 per cent of survey respondents satisfied with the time it took to resolve their complaints, compared to 78 per cent in the previous year. Private health insurance complaints comprise both complaints and consumer enquiries.
The Office finalised 1,292 overseas student complaints of which 1,033 were finalised within Office service standards (80 per cent). Complaints received during the year increased 32.5 per cent to 1,324, which impacted on the Office’s ability to meet the 85 per cent target.
The Office finalised 2,504 postal complaints of which 1,726 were finalised within Office service standards (69 per cent). In 2018–19 we introduced a new process for transferring complaints to Australia Post when we assessed that Australia Post should be able to resolve them quickly with the consumer. For these cases, Australia Post assess the complaint and informs us about the outcome. We then consider if further investigation of the complaint is required. Australia Post was allowed 10 days to provide a response for these cases, which meant the Office was unable to finalise these complaints within the Office’s 14 day service standard. While this resulted in complaints taking marginally longer to finalise, the process has generally achieved better outcomes for consumers.
The Office finalised 4,632 VET FEE-HELP and VET student loans complaints in 2018–19, with 1,284 closed within Office service standards (28 per cent). More than 97 per cent of complaints received in 2018–19 related to the former VET FEE-HELP scheme. The ability of the Office to finalise VET student loan complaints within service standards has been hampered by both the previous lack of redress pathway for VET FEE-HELP complainants with closed education providers, difficulties engaging with some open education providers and the high volume of complaints.
Since 1 January 2019, we began assessments of VET FEE-HELP debts under the VET FEE-HELP Student Redress Measures. The redress measures, passed in the Higher Education Support Amendment (VET FEE-HELP Student Protection) Act 2018, provide people who incurred VET FEE-HELP debts inappropriately with an opportunity to have their debts assessed for removal by our Office. During 2018–19, we worked closely with the Department of Education to document and agree processes to support the assessment of complaints and submission of recommendations from this Office to the Department under the redress measures. During 1 January to 30 June 2019 we focussed on the quality of recommendations rather than the volume, to ensure our recommendations were well targeted and that debt removals were justified. As the bedding down of processes is largely complete we expect the volume of recommendations to increase in 2019–20. As at 30 June 2019, there were 5,912 open VET FEE-HELP complaints that require assessment under the redress measures by our Office.
As noted above in relation to government complaints, for 2019–20, the Office is developing new service standards for each of our different complaint-handling and similar roles, which includes the handling of industry complaints. Based on confidence intervals, these standards will provide greater transparency as to the likely amount of time particular processes will take, recognising that there are different processes for each of our different functions.
The Office works with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) to facilitate a number of partnership programs with Ombudsman offices and integrity agencies in the Indo-Pacific region. The current programs are with the following bodies:
Ombudsman Republik of Indonesia
Ombudsman Commission of Papua New Guinea
Office of the Ombudsman of Samoa and the Samoa Audit Office
Office of the Ombudsman Solomon Islands and Leadership Code Commission.
We work closely with our international partners to:
strengthen the relationships between our Office and our international partners, as well as building relationships between similar organisations in the Indo-Pacific region
foster and share best practice across our partnerships and the wider Indo-Pacific region
strengthen institutional capacity at all levels.
The Office provides assistance to our regional partners consistent with Australian Aid priorities through DFAT. Our international team is required to carry out scheduled activities each year in order to comply with Australian Aid obligations. In 2018–19 the Office delivered 33 out of 36 outputs under the Australian Aid arrangements.
The success of our international program is through the building of linkages and understanding between our Office and our international partners, facilitating the sharing of lessons and mechanisms to overcome challenges and developing and supporting mentoring relationships, internship programs, and building networks through joint activities and events. The Office delivered activities in Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Indonesia and Samoa. To gauge our success and progress in delivering activities, the Office measures the satisfaction of stakeholder participation in those activities. The feedback for 2018–19 was very encouraging with 152 of 152 stakeholders providing an average of ‘satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ rating in the feedback forms/surveys.
Overarching analysis of performance against the Ombudsman’s purpose
In achieving our purpose as set out in the 2018–19 Corporate Plan, the Office performed strongly in meeting eight of our twelve KPI targets and narrowly missing the target on one other KPI. The Office delivers on its purpose through handling complaints, conducting investigations, performing audits and inspections, encouraging good administration and discharging specialist oversight tasks. The Office influences improvement in public administration in the Pacific region and Indonesia through collaboration with partner entities. In 2018–19, the Office focused on:
The implementation of a suite of new functions, including the expanded role of the Private Health Insurance Ombudsman, upgrade of privatehealth.gov.au, implementation of the VET FEE-HELP Student Redress Measures and establishment of the OPCAT national coordination role.
Ongoing delivery of high quality services to individual complainants, as the Office continues to be challenged by the large volumes of complaints.
Delivery of critical oversight functions to ensure the public can have confidence in the manner in which law enforcement and other agencies exercise certain important powers.
Careful identification of areas of administration where our critical, but discretionary, activities are to be dedicated in the form of own motion inquiries or other investigation and reporting work, to optimise our influence on the wider system.
Our structural change, as reported in the 2017–18 Annual Performance Statement, our use of lean methodology and a review of a number of our processes has provided the opportunity for greater efficiency and improved complaint-handling services.
Our results against KPI 3 can attest to our achievements here. While our results for KPI 10 did
not meet our expectations, we have learned from our experiences within VET FEE-HELP, VET student loans and the postal industry. We recognise that complaint-handling requires careful analysis and we are not always able to provide rapid resolution to complaints. In 2019–20 our service standards will more accurately represent the individual circumstances of each of our discrete complaint-handling functions and the length of time they take to finalise, to provide greater transparency to people who contact our Office.
Our 2018–19 KPIs prompted discussion within our senior leadership group about the relevance of what we are measuring. During 2018–19, we reviewed our performance measures and in 2019–20 we will utilise a new set of performance measures, designed to measure what we have achieved, not just to focus on what we do. The new performance framework for 2019–20 uses a combination of both quantitative and qualitative analysis to measure how effective we are in the work that we do. This framework particularly reflects that in fulfilling our purpose, we strive to maintain the confidence of three groups: the public, the agencies and organisations we oversee and the parliament. We look forward to reporting on this new framework in our 2019–20 Annual Performance Statement.
Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman, Portfolio budget statements 2018–19, Prime Minister and Cabinet, Canberra, 2018 ↩
This KPI target is taken from the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman Portfolio budget statements 2018–19, Prime Minister and Cabinet, Canberra, 2018. We note that the KPI target, 90 per cent, listed on page 15 of the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman 2018-22 Corporate Plan is incorrect – the correct target of 85 per cent is listed on page 16 ↩