General policy statement
During the 2011 financial review of the Office of the Ombudsmen, the Chief Ombudsman stated that the office was ‘in crisis’ due to its high caseload and inability to meet demand. Only a minor increase has been recommended as part of this year’s Budget. This extra funding will cover increases in salary costs but will do nothing to address the more than 300 cases that are presently unallocated and awaiting further consideration.
This Bill allows the Ombudsmen to set guidelines for recovering the costs of their investigations from the agencies being investigated. This will ensure that resourcing constraints do not deny access to due process, and will promote greater compliance with legislative requirements by government departments and agencies. In particular, providing the Ombudsmen with the ability to charge those departments or agencies who are the subject of Official Information Act 1982 investigations is likely to improve compliance with that legislation (which currently contains very weak compliance provisions).
Clause by clause analysis
Clause 1 is the Title clause.
Clause 2 provides for the Bill to come into force on the day after the date on which it receives the Royal assent.
Clause 3 states that the Ombudsmen Act 1975 is the principal Act.
Clause 4 sets out the purpose of the Bill.
Clause 5 inserts new section 17D, allowing cost recovery for investigations. Costs can only be recovered for investigations arising from complaints, not from own-motion investigations or those referred by the House of Representatives or the Prime Minister.