Ombudsman's office, 1988-1991 (Prof. Dennis Pearce)
Professor Dennis Pearce followed Mr Geoffrey Kolts for a three-year term during which the office's case load continued to expand. The office dealt with some difficult issues especially in the area of financial remedy.
Substantial improvements in the office's structure and powers resulted from the Senate Committee Review in 1991-1992. This Review was strongly supported by Professor Pearce.
Mr Geoffrey Kolts resigned as Ombudsman on 31 October 1987. Deputy Ombudsman Kevin Sainsbury acted as Ombudsman until the appointment of Professor Dennis Pearce as Ombudsman on 1 February 1988.
The new Ombudsman defended his right to ‘advertise’ his services to people who may have complaints.
The House of Representatives Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee agreed to advise the House of Representatives of any special reports the Ombudsman might make under Section 17 of the Ombudsman Act.
The Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs agreed to report on the Ombudsman’s Annual Report to the Senate.
On 30 June 1988, the Government began trialling a new arrangement for approving act of grace payments up to $50,000, recommended by the Ombudsman, which allowed departments to pay compensation without Department of Finance approval. This arrangement lasted until October 1995.
An investigation by the Ombudsman established that a fee for review of decisions imposed by the Department of Immigration, Local Government and Ethnic Affairs was invalid.
The Commonwealth Ombudsman’s office hosted the Fourth International Ombudsman Conference in Canberra.
TheTelecommunications (Interception) Amendment Act 1987 conferred a new function on the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s office. From September 1988, the office undertook compliance auditing of telecommunications intercept records kept by the Australian Federal Police and the National Crime Authority (now Australian Crime Commission).
When self-government in the ACT commenced on 11 May 1989, the ACT Ombudsman Act created a separate position of ACT Ombudsman, to investigate complaints about ACT Government agencies. Under arrangements agreed between the ACT and the Commonwealth Governments, the Commonwealth Ombudsman became the ACT Ombudsman. The arrangement is still in place.
In his 1988 - 89 Annual Report, Dennis Pearce tackled the question of whether the word ‘Ombudsman’ was sexist, following an assertion made in the Commonwealth Style Manual that it was in fact sexist.
Dennis Pearce wrote to the Secretary of the Department of Administrative Services in the following terms, ‘…I fear that the suggested substitutes for what looks like a sexist expression are wrong… Put simply, the word ‘Ombudsman’ is not an English word: it is Swedish. It does not therefore lend itself to conversion to the ‘ombudsperson’ or ‘ombudswoman’ that the manual suggests… it makes it meaningless because such suffixes are not recognised as Swedish’.
The Ombudsman reported that the Australian Taxation Office, Department of Social Security and Telecom generated nearly 50 per cent of all complaints. He also said that the agencies which received fewer complaints and those agencies with potentially hostile complainants seemed more suspicious and defensive about Ombudsman intervention. He said officers from agencies with no internal review mechanisms were often unused to having their decisions changed.