Ombudsman report on use of interpreters
The Commonwealth Ombudsman, Prof. John McMillan, today released a report on the use of interpreters in communicating with clients by four Australian Government agencies.
‘Complaints to my office indicate that interpreter services are not always provided in an accessible, responsive and fair manner,’ said Prof. McMillan. ‘This investigation was initiated to consider the use of interpreters by four agencies—the Australian Federal Police (AFP), Centrelink, the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC).’
The Australian government aims to provide accessible government services for all. People from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds may require an interpreter to access a range of government services, and many government agencies use independent interpreters and multilingual staff to communicate with such people.
Prof. McMillan said that his office examined whether agencies have clear and comprehensive policies in place to guide staff in the use of interpreters. Ombudsman staff also considered the provision of staff training, a community language scheme for multilingual staff, recordkeeping, complaint handling mechanisms and the way in which agencies address challenges when using interpreters.
‘Centrelink’s policies generally align with best practice principles in the use of interpreters,’ said Prof. McMillan. ‘The AFP, DIAC and DEEWR need to improve their policies and training for staff, including contractors. The AFP also needs to improve its complaint handling processes to capture better information regarding complaints about interpreters.’
Prof. McMillan said there is a need for greater collaboration and coordination across government agencies to develop joint strategies and solutions to address the challenges faced by agencies in providing timely, high quality interpreter services.
This report is relevant to all Australian Government agencies providing services to the public, and sets out eight best practice principles against which agencies can assess their own policies and procedures.
Download the report: Use of interpreters: AFP, Centrelink, DEEWR, DIAC.
Date of release: 26 March 2009