Beyond Review: Parliamentary Committee failed to subject the VEC to oversight by the Ombudsman

The Victorian Parliament Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee has published its report on the Review of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006.

In its report the Committee has made a number of recommendations in relation to the operation of the Human Rights charter. What was of considerable note was the Committee’s failure to address issues of concern in relation to the Ombudsman’s oversight

The Ombudsman plays a significant role in the oversight of government administration. the office of the Ombudsman is the appropriate body to oversee the administration of state authorities.

The Committee in its recommendations made two references to the Ombudsman

Recommendation 6

Complaints to the Ombudsman

If the Charter is retained, then SARC recommends that public authorities who are subject to the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction be encouraged to inform people who bring internal complaints that the Ombudsman may be able to investigate any unresolved complaints, including complaints concerning Charter rights.

Recommendation 33

Jurisdiction of the Ombudsman

If s. 13(1A) of the Ombudsman Act 1973 is retained, then SARC recommends that it be amended so as to specify the range of bodies that can be subject to an enquiry or investigation with respect to human rights.

The Committee also noted:

Complaints to the Ombudsman.

The Consultation Committee considered that the Ombudsman already had the power to handle human rights complaints, but recommended clarifying that it could consider Charter rights.

What the Committee failed to address was the provision of the Victorian Ombudsman Act that prevents the Ombudsman from reviewing the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC). s 13(3)(ca)

The Victorian Electoral Commission is not subjected to the Ombudsman Act, it is exempt, and as such the Ombudsman has no oversight over the VEC’s administrative misuse and abuse. The only avenue of review is the Courts, VCAT and the Parliament itself.

The Ombudsman has jurisdiction over a range of government authorities including the Victoria Police and Local Government in respect to administrative issues, why not the VEC?

Complaints against the VEC go unaddressed, The Parliament is reluctant to consider in detail any complaints against the VEC for fear of being seen to be partisan in its deliberations. It is incapable of considering any complaints of an administrative matter let alone misuse and abuse under the Human Rights Charter or abuses under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.

The Victorian Parliament Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee failed to address this issue of concern and failed to recommend removing the VEC’s exemption under the Victorian Ombudsman Act.

Whilst the Committee has recognised the role the Ombudsman plays in protection of Human Rights and government oversight it failed to address this essential issue of concern.

Last year a petition was tabled in the parliament calling for the Ombudsman act to be amended to resume the VEC exclusion from review by the Ombudsman.

Recommendation 6 and 33 of the Committee’s report does not apply to the VEC as the Ombudsman cannot review any actions of the Victorian Electoral Commission.

The Victorian Electoral Commission remains unaccountable and beyond review.