The Ombudsman

This page describes the intervention of the ACT Ombudsman into this project, and how the decision-maker in the Ombudsman’s office wimped out when it looked like there may have to be a serious discussion with the ACT Government.


January 2007

Chris Price wrote to the Chief Minister stating that there may be conflicts of interest in relation to the recent decision not to proceed with the airfield.


June 2007

Mr Ian Cox, Director, Business and Industry Development, wrote the following in a response for the Chief Minister:

"In relation to Mr Price’s assertion that ACTPLA officers have personal interests in leases that might form part of the impacted site, and have deliberately obfuscated the consideration process, ACTPLA has advised that there are no current (or past) ACT Government public officers with interests in the leases in question."

Several FOI requests failed to uncover any investigation that might support this assertion, and in August 2013, the Ombudsman found that no such investigation was carried out.


March 2012

In a letter to the Chief Minister, Chris Price indicated that he would publish information from FOI requests.  A memo to the Chief Minister from the acting Executive Director, Ministerial, Cabinet and Policy stated:

"As there are no compelling grounds to revisit that decision, it is believed that the most appropriate course of action is to note Mr Price’s allegations and advise him that should he wish to pursue those allegations further, this would best be done through the ACT Ombudsman."


July 2012

The Chief Minister wrote to Chris Price stating in part:

"Should you wish to pursue your allegations further, I suggest that you contact the ACT Ombudsman who is empowered to investigate complaints about the administrative actions of the ACT Government agencies."


October 2012

A complaint was lodged with the ACT Ombudsman in the name of Chris Price.


December 2012

Following calls made to the Chief Minister on her regular radio phone in, a follow up paper was prepared, reiterating the advice to work through the ACT Ombudsman.


April 2013

Following some discussion with an officer in the ACT Environment and Sustainable Development Directorate, the acting Director-General, Ben Ponton wrote to me stating in part:

 "As a matter of general principle, I consider that the appropriate method for the Directorate to respond to Mr Price’s issues is through the Ombudsman and that process is ongoing."


9th April 2013

Mr Andrew Kefford, Commissioner for Public Administration wrote to Chris Price, stating in part:

"As indicated when we spoke about your concerns, the Chief Minister has forwarded your correspondence to me as she was concerned that you may have raised issues that could enliven the jurisdiction of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2012 (PID Act)."

And further

"I have made the decision that this particular matter falls within the responsibilities of the Economic Development Directorate (EDD)."

"I understand from our conversation that the Director-general of EDD, Mr David Dawes is not party to the concerns you raised, so I have referred your letter to Mr Dawes to make the relevant enquiries.”


29th April 2013

Ms Anita Hargreaves, Director, Workforce and Governance, Economic Development Directorate wrote to Chris Price stating that as the Designated Disclosure officer for EDD she has been asked by Mr Dawes to look into matters, and she requested any additional documentation he may have.


May 2013

A twelve-page document, accompanied by 21 attachments was forwarded to Ms Hargreaves.  The document outlined the case made in the website, and the attachments were all ACT Government documents obtained under FOI.


28th June

Chris Price received a response from Mr Dawes related to the PID case.  In his response Mr Dawes did not address any of the particulars of the case that was presented. He states:

"… I have found that the documents provided to substantiate your complaint do not give reasonable grounds for terminating the employment of any of the four officers you have named."

And further:

"Your assumption about a duty to investigate GA, and what you consider to be misleading, and what you assert was or was not done, is not evidence of improper motives."


"The documents connected to EDD in preparing ministerial briefs simply reflect the thinking processes of the ACTPS surrounding the evaluation of the Williamsdale Airfield proposal."

In this determination, Mr Dawes has refused to make a decision on the facts because he does not like the sanction prescribed in the Act.  He then goes on to state that there is no evidence of improper motives, a criterion not mentioned in the Act.  Lastly, while the statement about the thinking processes is irrelevant to the complaint, it is also factually wrong.  The airfield proposal was supported by the Chief Minister, the action officer and the transport officer of ACTPLA, the only other people with a recorded opinion.

Further, the investigator, Mr Dawes, restricted himself to a review of the evidence presented by us.  The Act does not in any way suggest that investigating officers should restrict themself to a review of presented material. 

It appears that Mr Dawes made no attempt to find out what might have happened, nor did he reference interviews with the staff in question, nor did he address the contradiction between the material on file and the information provided by the officers in question.

Mr Dawes is a Director-General and is paid several hundreds of thousands of dollars per year to produce rubbish like this.


July 2013

A meeting was held between David Edmunds, Chris Price, and Ms Gail Cantle, the Ombudsman's investigation officer, where the response from Mr Dawes was provided to Ms Cantle, as part of her investigation. 


20th July 2013

A request was made to Mr Kefford for a review of Mr Dawes decision based on the grounds outlined above, except for the bit about his salary.


16th August

Chris Price wrote to Mr Kefford asking why there had been no acknowledgement of his request for a review.


30th August

Mr Kefford replied to Chris Price acknowledging the request for a review and explaining the six-week delay in responding as an “administrative oversight”.  He did not explain why there were two “administrative oversights”

Mr Kefford also stated:

"I have discussed this matter with the Ombudsman’s Office and have copied this letter to that office."


"I would also observe that there is no timeframe specified in relation to the exercise of the discretion you have invited me to consider.  Furthermore, the matters you have raised, and continue to press, are complex and multifaceted." 


18th September

We were informed by the Ombudsman’s investigator that her senior officer had determined that the Ombudsman’s office would not continue the investigation as the issue was being investigated by Mr Kefford.

It is worth noting that Mr Kefford had been responsible for the investigation of this issue since it was referred to him by the Chief Minister in April.  That is, with a comprehensive brief in hand, it has so far taken six months for the ACT public service to declare that it does not like the penalty associated with the Act, so the officer tasked with the investigation refused to act.

We referred the Dawes decision to the Ombudsman, a decision ultimately the responsibility of Mr Kefford.  That is, Mr Kefford himself is part of the Ombudsman’s investigation and yet this senior officer in the Ombudsman’s office decided to allow Mr Kefford, in part, to investigate his own performance.

Mr Kefford informed us in his letter of the 30th of August that this may take some time.

What a surprise.



This raises the obvious question as to whether it is proper for the decision maker within the Ombudsman’s office to terminate an enquiry at the point where the review of the evidence is more or less complete, negotiate with an office that is part of the investigation itself, and hand it to that office, which has shown that it is unable to mount an objective examination.

It is also worth noting that the ACT public service has been very reluctant to act, and in informing the ombudsman belatedly that it intends to act, has managed to ensure that it does not have to act, because the statement of intent to act is enough to convince the Ombudsman not to act. The senior Ombudsman’s officer who made this decision is apparently satisfied with the quality of the ACT Government response.  She is obviously very easy to please.

Until it became clear to various officers within the ACT Public Service that there was something to hide, the advice to us was that the ACT Ombudsman was the correct way in which our complaints should be addressed.

It is pretty obvious why the ACTPS has now changed to wanting to handle the complaint itself, and it is a pity that a senior officer within the ACT Ombudsman’s office is complicit with this change of tactic.