House of Representatives Speech- Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2012-2013

  I think it is very important that the parliament focus on what the role of the Ombudsman actually is. As the member for Mackellar has pointed out, the Ombudsman is charged with a review role. He is a statutory officer with quite a high degree of independence; as such, and under the terms of his legislation, he is able to report directly to the parliament and indeed has done so on occasion. He also of course has an annual report in which he describes the work that he has engaged in over the previous year.

I think it is very important that the parliament focus on what the role of the Ombudsman actually is. As the member for Mackellar has pointed out, the Ombudsman is charged with a review role. He is a statutory officer with quite a high degree of independence; as such, and under the terms of his legislation, he is able to report directly to the parliament and indeed has done so on occasion. He also of course has an annual report in which he describes the work that he has engaged in over the previous year.

The Commonwealth has many dozens of statutory officers—obviously, all in roles different from the role the Ombudsman performs—but not all of those officers, many of whom have a statutory degree of independence conferred on them, have their own parliamentary committee. I do not think it would be workable for every statutory officer to have their own parliamentary committee. The member for Mackellar, quoting Dennis Pearce, made the point that the Ombudsman has for many years proved the value of having an Ombudsman—having independence, review processes and somewhere that members of the public can go to make their complaints, and indeed having someone who has a general oversight role and a discretion to go and look at various matters on his own motion, without waiting to be charged with an inquiry, without waiting even for a complaint to be made.

The nature of the Ombudsman's work means that it is difficult to forecast demand. Resourcing from year to year, to some extent, is going to on a best-guess basis. Just looking at the number of complaints received over the last four years might give you some indication of the degree of difficulty involved in making estimates in advance. For instance—and this is just the number of complaints and approaches to the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman; he has this other, separate, self-starting jurisdiction altogether—we read in the Ombudsman's reports that there were a total of 39,932 in 2007-08, but they leapt to 45,719 in 2008-09, went down again to 37,468 in 2009-10 and then rose slightly in 2010-11. That gives you an idea of the elasticity of the numbers of complaints, and the irregularity of the numbers gives you an indication of the difficulty of forecasting year-on-year what work the Ombudsman will have to carry out, what he is going to have to do. Obviously, where there is an increase in demand that can be estimated and clearly linked to some particular initiative or some new jurisdiction that has been conferred on the Ombudsman, then consideration of resourcing is possible. But, at a very general level, the Ombudsman's is one of those statutory offices where it is fairly difficult to make an accurate estimate from year to year as to what the work is going to be. I have no doubt that the Ombudsman will draw it to the government's attention if the staffing level as presently estimated for 2012-13, of 136 officers, is found to be inadequate. That is what the Ombudsman has done in the past, and I have no doubt that the present occupant of this statutory office will do that in the future.