COMMITTEE ON THE OFFICE OF THE OMBUDSMAN AND THE POLICE INTEGRITY COMMISSION
Report: Report on an Inquiry into the Handling of Complaints against the Police Integrity Commission
Report: Report on the Sixteenth General Meeting with the NSW Ombudsman
Debate resumed from 22 April 2010.
The Hon. LYNDA VOLTZ
[3.30 p.m.]: The background to the committee's inquiry into the handling of complaints against the Police Integrity Commission is that, over the past two years, the Inspector of the Police Integrity Commission has produced a number of complaint investigation reports critical of the commission. In some cases the Police Integrity Commission has disagreed with the Inspector's conclusions. At general meetings with the Inspector and with the Police Integrity Commission, the committee has satisfied itself that, despite these disagreements, a constructive and appropriate working relationship between the parties continues. The Police Integrity Commission Commissioner told the committee on a number of occasions that although the commission held a different view on a number of matters, its practices and procedures had been changed in response to the Inspector's reports. However, the committee felt that it would be timely to conduct an inquiry into the practices and procedures for examining complaints made against the commission and to look at comparable agencies that are oversighted by an Inspector.
Generally speaking there was a consensus of opinion about complaint investigation procedures among those who contributed to this inquiry. Flexibility in any scheme was recommended by most of those giving evidence. After considering the evidence of the Police Integrity Commission Commissioner, the Police Integrity Commission Inspector and comparable office holders in other jurisdictions, the committee has been able to suggest some guidelines for the Police Integrity Commission Inspector to follow. However, it has also recommended that the Police Integrity Commission Act be amended so that, where the Police Integrity Commission disagrees with an adverse comment in the inspector's complaint investigation report, the Police Integrity Commission's response to that comment is included in the report. The committee considered that the commission's views should be available to a reader of the inspector's report.
I report on the Committee on the Office of the Ombudsman and the Police Integrity Commission's Sixteenth General Meeting with the New South Wales Ombudsman. The general meetings provide the committee with the opportunity to meet with the Ombudsman and his executive staff, and overview the work undertaken by the office during the past reporting year. The Ombudsman drew the committee's attention to a number of concerns that he had raised in previous general meetings. First were the budgetary constraints on his office. They are the result of the imposition of an efficiency dividend and the obligation to meet pay rises. The Ombudsman has taken a number of measures to make up the shortfall, including restructuring and conducting a strategic planning review, so that he can make the best use of his resources and avoid reducing front-line staff. However, the Ombudsman considers that the pressures on his budget will be ongoing.
The committee believes that the Ombudsman should receive adequate funding to continue his work, which provides value across the public sector and often benefits the most vulnerable members of our society. The committee has written to the Premier and the Treasurer in support of the Ombudsman. Two other issues raised in previous general meetings have not been resolved and remain of concern to the committee. The first is the Ombudsman's access to correctional centre official visitors. The Ombudsman drew this issue to the committee's attention at the fifteenth general meeting. On the basis of privacy concerns, the Commissioner for Corrective Services issued a directive that general managers of correctional centres were to facilitate the Ombudsman's contact with the official visitors. Previously the Ombudsman could contact them directly. The Ombudsman considers that this directive has greatly reduced the contact his office has with official visitors. At the sixteenth general meeting the Ombudsman reported that the situation remains unchanged. The committee has written a second time to the Minister for Corrective Services about the matter.
Another ongoing matter is a provision in the Ombudsman Act that allows agencies to claim legal professional privilege. This matter was drawn to the committee's attention at the fourteenth general meeting. The Ombudsman considered that in some cases a claim of legal professional privilege was made in order to obstruct his office from carrying out a thorough investigation of a particular issue. Both the Ombudsman and the committee have proposed amending this provision in the Ombudsman Act to bring the Act in line with Ombudsman legislation in other Australian jurisdictions and similar provisions in the Independent Commission Against Corruption Act and Police Integrity Commission Act. The Department of Premier and Cabinet has had the amendment under consideration for well over a year. The committee has therefore recommended that the Premier amend sections 21 and 21A of the Ombudsman Act 1974 to ensure that public authorities can no longer claim legal professional privilege in regard to the requirements of these sections.
A fresh issue that the Ombudsman drew to the committee's attention is an anomaly in the information-sharing provisions in the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act. The Act was amended following the Wood inquiry into child protection services in order to promote greater exchange of information between agencies relating to the safety, welfare or wellbeing of a child or young person. In answer to a question on notice and in discussion during the general meeting, the Ombudsman told the committee that he was concerned that section 29 (1 ) (f) of the Act, which protects the identity of a person making a risk of harm report, will prevent such reports from being accessed because they have the potential to identify the reporter. For example, he considered that the quality of information that child wellbeing units can acquire may be compromised, due to the requirements of section 29. The Community and Disability Services Commissioner has put forward a number of suggestions to resolve the problem, but these strategies will not be applicable to non-government agencies.
In regard to the report on the sixteenth general meeting with the Ombudsman, the committee supports the efforts of the Ombudsman to resolve this apparent legislative inconsistency and has written to the Minister to suggest that consideration be given to amending the legislation so that the situation is clarified. In conclusion, I thank the Ombudsman and his staff for the information they have provided to the committee, and the committee members for their participation in the general meeting and their contribution to the reporting process. In regard to the handling of complaints against the Police Integrity Commission, I thank the people who gave their time to the committee inquiry. The inquiry involved a number of jurisdictions, Western Australia in particular. I thank all those who contributed to the inquiry. I thank committee members for their participation in the inquiry and their contribution to the reporting process. I commend the reports to the House.
Question—That the House take note of the report—put and resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.