Ombudsman's office, 1986-1987 (Geoffery Colts)
After an interregnum during which Air Vice-Marshal Jordan acted as Ombudsman, Geoffrey Kolts was appointed from his position as First Parliamentary Counsel. Mr Kolts brought the precision of a draftsman to his role during his short appointment.
Professor Jack Richardson retired as Commonwealth Ombudsman on 23 September 1985. Air Vice-Marshal Jordan AO was Acting Ombudsman from 23 September until Mr Geoffrey Kolts, OBE, QC became Ombudsman on 1 July 1986.
The new Ombudsman wrote ‘an insidious threat gathers substance’, referring to conflicts which could arise when the Department of Finance did not allow an agency to make an act of grace payment which had been recommended by the Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman reported that some agencies were treating Ombudsman recommendations ‘lightly’. He said there should be some method by which the Prime Minister could ensure agencies complied with Ombudsman recommendations on act of grace payments.
The Ombudsman also reported on the government’s failure to act on the two Section 17 reports presented to Parliament in relation to the ABC’s accountability on programming issues and another relating to the misreading of an Army sugar tender document.
The Ombudsman also called for strict time limits for agencies to respond to his office’s inquiries at any stage of an inquiry.
The Ombudsman reported that the unprecedented number of cases which required him to report to the Prime Minister were a ‘considerable obstacle’. He said that the ongoing failure to deal with his recommendations represented a substantial injustice to complainants, reflecting poorly on the government’s commitment to the Ombudsman’s office.
A Parliamentary procedure was established to scrutinise Ombudsman Annual Reports.
The Ombudsman suggested that the government should introduce special legislation to enable the Prime Minister to authorise act of grace payments. He presented a draft of legislation in his Annual Report.
Stolen Lottery Ticket…
In 1985-86, the Ombudsman reported that a woman in the Northern Territory sent a $1,000 scratch lottery ticket by Certified Mail to Melbourne for payment, but it did not arrive. When the woman rang the lottery office she was told the ticket had been cashed over the counter.
Australia Post (AP) paid the woman $50 compensation for the loss. An Ombudsman investigation found that the ticket was probably stolen by an AP employee.
The Ombudsman told AP that under these circumstances this case was ‘special’ and it was appropriate for AP to exercise a discretion to pay the woman full compensation for her loss. AP did not agree that probable theft by one of its employees constituted a ‘special’ circumstance and stuck by its decision to pay only $50 compensation.
Successive Ombudsmen reported problems with discretionary compensation provisions, and Australia Post has since developed guidelines for the use of the provisions.