Concerns as three key posts remain vacant

Attorney-General Vanessa  Goodwin
Attorney-General Vanessa Goodwin

TASMANIANS with complaints about the government and public agencies are facing long wait times for their matters to be investigated, as three powerful independent roles remain vacant.

Tasmania has been without a Children's Commissioner for almost a year, the Ombudsman's role has been vacant for more than six months and the Solicitor-General recently departed after announcing his retirement at the start of the year. 

Senior law lecturer at the University of Tasmania  Associate Professor Rick Snell said the prolonged vacancy in the Ombudsman's office was particularly concerning.

``We have an office under great stress, now we have got an office that's further stressed by having no permanent Ombudsman,'' Associate Professor Snell said. 

In November last year, a parliamentary inquiry chaired by Attorney-General Vanessa  Goodwin  recommended reviewing the workload and funding for the Ombudsman's office after then Ombudsman Leon Atkinson-McEwan warned that  the office was struggling to cope with rising demand in the face of budget cuts. 

Mr Atkinson-McEwan left the post in January. 

A spokeswoman yesterday said the process to find a replacement was ``well under way'' but provided no details.

Associate Professor Snell said having an effective impartial investigator such as the Ombudsman, who also acts as the Health Complaints Commissioner and Energy Ombudsman, was critical to ensuring public authorities maintained high standards.

``It keeps you on your toes,'' he said.  

 The Examiner  understands a replacement for the Solicitor-General has been chosen and will be announced shortly.   

In May, the government readvertised for a Children's Commissioner, despite a selection panel making a recommendation before the March state election. 

Opposition Leader Bryan Green was also concerned about the impact of the delay in filling the critical Ombudsman role. 

``I know from my own experience that many people seek out the Ombudsman to judge whether they've been dealt with fairly across a whole range of scenarios, so I think it does have an impact on the ability of Tasmanians to have their matters heard and understood,'' Mr Green said. 

He said there should not be a problem attracting a suitably qualified person. 

``It's normally seen as a very prestigious role.'' 


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