On 30 June 2009 I received a phone call from a woman in the office of the Victorian Ombudsman acknowledging receipt of my complaint letter about the City of Yarra’s refusal to release food hygiene inspection information into the public domain.
The woman did not seem to understand the substantive point of my complaint or the outcome I wish to achieve, despite the fact I state both clearly in the letter. She focused on a narrow legalistic determination of what the Ombudsman’s office could do.
She explained that the office of the Ombudsman is not the appropriate body to determine whether the City of Yarra’s refusal to release the names of the businesses because of privacy concerns is justified.
I have to apply for a hearing at VCAT to contest Yarra’s rejection of my appeal against their refusal to release the business names, and this will cost me $198.60. These fees are obstacles established by the state to hinder the public’s access to information.
It seems that VCAT has more power than the Ombudsman. If so, why do we need both? It’s more bureaucratic duplication and a waste of resources.
The Ombudsman is however able to address the reason given by council for not releasing the details of the offences: that compiling all the information for release would be an unreasonable burden on its resources.
The council has undermined its own argument here. The council provided me with an electronic spreadsheet with the columns containing this information removed, and noted this in its letter to me, thus demonstrating that it has the information in an easily accessible format.
The City of Yarra is being dishonest by claiming that it doesn’t have the information in an accessible format and that compiling it would create an unreasonable amount of work.
Asking the Ombudsman to further examine this aspect of the case alone is pointless. Proving that there is no unreasonable burden to overcome may force the council release the information detailing the nature of the offences, but this information is still useless without the corresponding business names.
I though the office of the Ombudsman is supposed to be a impartial advocate for fairness and decency, but in this instance it has proved itself to be useless and pathetic.
According to its own website, the Ombudsman supposedly “promotes excellence in public administration in Victoria and seeks to ensure the highest possible standards of public sector service delivery to all Victorians.”
How is it supporting public sector service delivery to the people of Victoria by helping the City of Yarra bury important information of significant public interest?
The Ombudsman appears just like every other branch of the Labor infested political machinery of Victoria – a pathetic excuse for bureaucratic ineptitude that is driven primarily by a stubborn refusal to take responsibility for the public good. Public transport policy anyone?
The City of Yarra is dominated by the Labor party with the Greens as its pets. My local member of state parliament is Labor. My local member of federal parliament is Labor. They will never conflict with each over policy issues.
I wrote to my state MP about this issue and all I got was the standard patronising form letter acknowledging my letter and telling me how great the local MP is.
The Labor party maintains that it is official party policy to release food hygiene inspection information in NSW yet maintain absolute secrecy about the same issue in Victoria. That to me is a simple and irrefutable definition of corruption. There is no logic, ethics or decency to this policy. It’s pure despicable politics.
The people of Victoria should be able to access information they have paid for in order to maintain their own health. By failing to acknowledge and address the substantive issue in this case, the Victorian Ombudsman is failing the people of Victoria.
I’m in the process of obtaining further legal advice and am preparing to lodge my application with VCAT to have it consider the privacy issue.
Update 27 July 2009: I finally received a written acknowledgement from the Ombudsman’s office in the form of a letter dated 23 July. The letter confirmed what I state above and asked me to call a particular staff member to confirm that I wanted the investigation to proceed. I called and left a message, which was not returned, then I called again and left another message and eventually received a return call from another staff member acknowledging that I wanted the investigation to continue. Bureaucracy…