Authorised officer complaints management policy

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Purpose

Agriculture Victoria, within the Department of Jobs,Precincts and Regions (the department), recognises the importance of a fair, transparent and responsive Authorised Officer (AO) complaints management system. Through this recognition, Agriculture Victoria is committed to having an effective complaint handling system that reflects the needs, expectations and rights of complainants and AOs.

This policy details Agriculture Victoria’s process for managing complaints made by members of the public regarding the conduct of an AO, as well as the process by which members of the public may make complaints.

The policy will guide Agriculture Victoria in providing a fair, transparent and responsive AO complaints management service by defining the following policy aspects:

  • the types of complaints covered;
  • the principles for handling complaints;
  • how to make a complaint; and
  • the process for handling complaints.

Scope

This policy applies to all AOs, trainee AOs, and external contractors appointed as AOs within Agriculture Victoria. And ensures that all complaints relating to AO conduct are addressed in an efficient, fair and timely manner.

Applicable complaints

This policy covers complaints about the behaviour and conduct of an AO. Examples of complaints relating to the conduct of an AO may include allegations of:

  • the use of inappropriate or offensive language;
  • an aggressive or rude demeanour;
  • the use of excessive force;
  • misuse of their statutory powers;
  • failure to comply with their legislative obligations;
  • fraud and/or corruption;
  • discrimination or harassment; and
  • behaviour reflecting badly on the Victorian public service.

Please note that any person concerned about misconduct and/or possible retribution for making a complaint may make a public interest disclosure either to the department's Public Interest Disclosure Coordinator or directly to the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC).

Non-applicable complaints

This policy does not apply to complaints regarding the following aspects:

  • infringement notices or official warnings issued under the Infringements Act.
  • court or tribunal proceedings and/or decisions;
  • other enforcement decisions subject to statutory review;
  • the department's policy position such as requests for certain practices to be outlawed, complaints about how certain species, practices or industries are regulated;
  • the department's program delivery e.g. lack of regulatory focus or selective enforcement on certain species, practices; industries or geographic areas;
  • reports of possible illegal activity of the public such as reports of animal cruelty or weed infestations; and
  • the appointment or conduct of committees of management.

Complaint management principles

Agriculture Victoria enforces the set of principles in accordance, detailed in Table 1, regarding the management of all AO complaints. These principles are in line with the Victorian Ombudsman’s Complaints: Good Practice Guide for Public Sector Agencies September 2016 and Good Practice Guide to Dealing with Challenging Behaviour.

Table 1: Principles for AO Complaint Management

Principle

Description

Fairness

  • Complainants and AOs will be treated fairly,   with respect and courtesy.
  • Reviews and investigations will be undertaken   by an officer not previously involved in the matter.
  • Reviews and investigations will be carried out   in accordance with procedural fairness.

Transparency and Access

  • Information regarding the right to complain,   how to make a complaint and how the complaint will be handled is available on   the department's website and through the Customer Service Centre.
  • AOs and other relevant staff will be   appropriately trained to ensure they can provide information about accessing   the complaints management system.
  • The group does not charge a fee for using the   complaints management system.

Responsiveness

  • Complaints will be acknowledged within ten   business days of receipt of the complaint.
  • Complaints will be handled in a timely manner.   An indication of the timeframe for resolving the complaint will be provided   in the acknowledgement receipt.
  • The complainant and the AO against whom a   complaint is made will be kept informed of the progress of the complaint and   will be advised of the outcome of the review by the appropriate business   unit.

Privacy and Confidentiality

  • The complaint handling process ensures   confidentiality of the complainant and the AO involved in accordance with   relevant privacy legislation.
  • Details of complaints will only be known by   those employees directly concerned.

Accountability

  • All complaints and responses will be recorded   on a central register.
  • Aggregated complaints data and trends will be   reported annually against performance standards to the relevant executive   management group.

Business Improvement

  • Aggregated complaint data will be analysed and   assessed regularly.
  • Any preventive actions or cost-effective   business improvements identified will be recommended to senior management for   implementation.
  • The complaint handling process will be reviewed   annually and amended as required.

Lodging a complaint

Complainants should utilise the following process when making a complaint in relation to the conduct or behaviour of an Agriculture Victoria AO.

Complaint process

Complainants should complete the online AO Conduct Complaint Form for matters relating to AO conduct, as specified section 2.1 of this policy. The AO Conduct Complaint Form can be accessed via the department website.

Alternatively, complainants may call the Customer Service Centre (136 186) to;

  • request a hardcopy of the AO Conduct Complaint Form;
  • lodge a verbal complaint; or
  • lodge an anonymous complaint.

Please note that anonymous complaints are difficult to assess as complainants cannot be contacted to provide more information. An assessment may be undertaken if it is deemed that warranted and sufficient information exists. If there is insufficient information, the complaint will be recorded on the central register, however, no further action will be taken.

All completed hardcopy forms must be returned to the following postal address:

CONFIDENTIAL
Authorised Officer Complaints
Regulatory Improvement
Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions
GPO Box 4509
Melbourne VIC 3001

Special needs cases

Agriculture Victoria recognises that not all complainants have the capacity to complete a written complaint. In situations where special needs cases exist, such as vision impairment or English as a second language, the complainant may seek another person to submit the complaint on their behalf.

Alternatively, the Customer Service Centre (136 186) may be able to complete the complaint form on behalf of the complainant over the phone.

Complaint content

All information provided via the Customer Service Centre or in the complaint form must be true and complete. Complainants must not make any misleading, false or malicious statements. Any complaint that is found to be malicious or defamatory may be pursued by Agriculture Victoria and appropriate action taken on behalf of the AO.

Complaint handling process

Agriculture Victoria will undertake the following process in the management of complaints received, in accordance with section 2.1 of this policy.

Acknowledgement

Upon receipt of a complaint, Agriculture Victoria will determine whether the complaint is within the scope of this policy. Agriculture Victoria will send an acknowledgement to the complainant. For complaints within the scope of this policy, the acknowledgement will provide further information relating to the review and outcome process, as well as expected resolution timelines.

Any complaint which is received and determined as a non-applicable complaint will be referred onto the correct complaints area if appropriate and practicable, otherwise, the complainant will be notified that no further action will be able to be taken in accordance with this policy.

Assessment

Agriculture Victoria’s AO Complaints Case Officer will review all applicable complaints and commence the response process. As part of the response process the relevant AO will be notified of the complaint, where deemed appropriate.

Immediate response

Where appropriate, complainants may be contacted directly by the AO to respond to the complaint directly. AOs may initiate contact directly with the complainant to clarify AO powers or to provide an acknowledgement or apology.

In the instance that an AO will not make direct contact to respond to the complaint, an AO Manager may manage the response process. The AO Manager will liaise with the AO and complainant to:

  • discuss the behaviour of the AO and subsequent impact of their actions;
  • explain the powers of the AO; and
  • discuss a resolution that is, ideally, acceptable for both parties.

In addition to the liaison with the AO Manager, they may facilitate a discussion between the AO and the complainant, if agreed upon by both parties, to reach a resolution.

Review

If immediate response processes are not practical or successful, then a review will be undertaken. This will involve liaison with the complainant, the AO, other witnesses and business experts to obtain the facts. Other sources of relevant information may be gathered and assessed as required.

Notification and remedy

In the instance that a complaint review identifies an error on the part of the AO, appropriate remedial action will be taken to correct the error. The complainant and AO will be separately advised of the outcome.

Remedial actions provided by Agriculture Victoria regarding a complaint may include;

  • an apology;
  • an explanation of why the error occurred and the steps taken to address and prevent it happening again;
  • a reviewof a decision; and/or
  • appropriate disciplinary action.

Appeal

If a complainant is dissatisfied with how their complaint was handled, a Complaint Reviewing Officer, independent from the initial review will undertake an internal review. An internal review of a complaint will focus on how the investigation was undertaken. The Complaint Reviewing Officer will be a senior Agriculture Victoria manager.

Alternatively, if the complainant is unhappy with the outcome of their complaint, they may contact the Victorian Ombudsman’s Office.

Definitions

Term

Definition

Authorised Officer (AO)

A person appointed by the Minister or the Secretary or a delegate of the Minister or the Secretary, to carry out a compliance function or an enforcement function under legislation administered by the department.

Complaints Case Officer

The person engaged within the Regulatory Improvement Unit who receives and allocates complaints for resolution.

Complainant

The person or entity who lodges a complaint.

Complaint

The expression of dissatisfaction about the conduct or decision made by an AO.

The department

The Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions

Enforcement related decision

The decision made by an AO in response to detection of an offence.

Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC):

An anti-corruption body with responsibility for identifying and preventing serious corrupt conduct across the whole Victorian public sector, including members of Parliament, the judiciary and state and local government.

Complaints Reviewing Officer

A senior Agriculture Victoria manager responsible for undertaking an internal review into a complaint.

Procedural fairness

Principles that ensure a fair decision is reached by an objective decision maker.

Public interest disclosure

The term applied in the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2012 (PID Act) to an allegation or disclosure of improper conduct by a public officer or the department that meets the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission of Victoria (IBAC) assessment requirements. The disclosure is protected from reprisals by the PID Act.

Page last updated: 22 October 2021