Watchdog barks – bite unknown


A REPORT released by the Victorian Ombudsman this month revealed 107 complaints about Mornington Peninsula Shire were made to the watchdog over a 12-month period but council and the Ombudsman’s office will not reveal how many of the complaints were investigated or substantiated.

The Ombudsman’s annual report released on Monday 16 October listed the number of complaints about each of Victoria’s 79 councils it received during the 2016-17 financial year.

Mornington Peninsula Shire was listed as the 9th most complained about council – up from 22nd in 2015-16 with 62 complaints – to the state watchdog that has the power to investigate state government departments and agencies, councils and statutory authorities.

The News asked the Ombudsman’s office how many of the 107 complaints about the shire were investigated and substantiated but it said the information could not be provided due to legislative constraints.

A statement provided from Ombudsman Deborah Glass said complaints about councils “range from issues such as parking infringements, rates and how complaints are handled, to improper conduct and poor governance”.

“We encourage councils to ‘learn to love complaints’ as each complaint is free feedback about what someone thinks,” Ms Glass said.

“We have also issued a good practice guide for complaint handling in local government to help local councils do it better as, all too often, we see complaints about how a council has handled someone’s complaint.

“We have also recommended that the government change the law so it is easier for agencies to apologise without exposing themselves to legal action. Saying sorry is often the most effective way councils and other public bodies can resolve a dispute with a member of the public.”

Shire governance manager Joseph Spiteri said: “Council is unable to comment on the specific nature of the complaints, the degree of investigation undertaken by the Ombudsman’s office and the specific findings of the Ombudsman”.

“All questions relating to the substantiation of complaints, the relevant subject matter or department will need to be referred to the Ombudsman’s office for comment.”

Neighbouring Frankston and Kingston councils were more forthcoming.

The Ombudsman’s office received 71 complaints about Frankston in 2016-17 and 97 complaints about Kingston during the same period.

Both councils confirmed the Ombudsman’s office contacted the respective councils about 11 complaints each and all had been resolved with no further action needed.

“Mornington Peninsula Shire council takes all complaints seriously and has effective complaint management processes in place to investigate and respond in a timely manner,” Mr Spiteri said.

When releasing its 2016-17 annual report last week, the shire trumpeted it “is committed to transparent reporting and accountability to the community”.

Casey Council was the most complained about council to the Ombudsman’s office in 2016-17 with 139 complaints.

First published in the Southern Peninsula News – 31 October 2017


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