Victorians lodging formal complaints about human rights in ‘record’ numbers, Victorian Ombudsman finds
A record number of Victorians fear their human rights are being challenged by the state government, according to the state’s complaints watchdog.
In a dump of agency annual reports tabled in parliament on Thursday, the Victorian Ombudsman noted it had received 2770 complaints against the Andrews government in 2020-21.
The agency said it triggered “record demand” for its services in the past year and noted many of the complaints related to Covid-19 snap lockdowns and businesses being denied pandemic support grants.
“Decisions of public servants neglecting human rights in their decision-making led to many of the complaints,” the Ombudsman’s Deborah Glass wrote in her report.
“We continue to remind public officials of the sometimes unwelcome truth that human rights still matter.”
The Victorian Ombudsman found the snap lockdown of 3000 public housing residents in North Melbourne and Footscray last year breached human rights.
“While the government did not accept my recommendation that it apologise to those people, I was pleased to see a very different response to a Covid-19 outbreak in the public housing towers a year later,” Ms Glass wrote.
More than 10,000 Victorian business owners were denied $10,000 grants to help them pay bills during rolling lockdowns, the Ombudsman also found.
Businesses were invited to reapply but not without sparking a steady stream of complaints and triggering a formal investigation into how the government administered the support program.
Complaints to the Victorian Births Deaths and Marriages registry also increased by 165 per cent due to the agency shutting down its call centre due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
It left people without the opportunity to contact anyone at the agency while others complained the registry had not been responsive to emails or returning phone calls, the Ombusdman found.
VicRoads, Fines Victoria and the State Revenue Office also received a high volume of complaints.
In a separate report, the independent Broad‑based Anti‑corruption Commission (IBAC) said Victorian legislation was holding it back from doing its job.
After a year of major investigations into the misuse of taxpayer resources, IBAC warned current legislation was leading to delays in investigations.
“To effectively fulfil our functions to expose and prevent corruption and misconduct, we also need to be supported by best-practice legislation,” the report read.
“As it stands, elements of IBAC’s legislation cause investigations to be unnecessarily delayed or frustrated by lengthy litigation because we are unable to gain access to crucial evidence and information.
“Particularly with respect to claims of privilege, investigations can be impeded for inordinate periods, as litigation in the Supreme Court is the only mechanism provided to resolve such claims, regardless of their merit.”
It followed IBAC’s public call for more funding after it savaged the investment it received in this year’s state budget.
IBAC was allocated $27m over four years, but IBAC’s commissioner said it was simply not enough to investigate all serious cases of corruption in Victoria, including police integrity issues.
IBAC assessed 4965 allegations of suspected corruption or police misconduct in the past year.
More broadly, it received 2832 complaints – a 17 per cent increase on the previous year.
The Victorian government said it had supported IBAC with its financial investments and was working with the anti-corruption watchdog in regards to changing legislation.
“We’ve delivered stronger powers and more resources to enable IBAC to investigate corrupt conduct and fulfil its statutory obligations,” a spokesman said.
“We have provided ongoing funding to IBAC since its establishment and will continue to fund IBAC to support its operational needs.
“We‘re working closely with IBAC regarding a number of its requests for legislative reform and will continue to do so, including through the systemic review of police oversight.”
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