The Queensland government has acknowledged funding gaps at two state watchdogs hit hard by pandemic-driven workloads, as repeated calls for more funding from other accountability agencies went unanswered in the latest budget.
Queensland’s Ombudsman and the Human Rights Commission both received quiet funding top-ups on Tuesday. This came amid a need to “ensure the sustainability and independence” of the Ombudsman, and to address “base funding shortfalls” and a backlog of complaints at the commission.
The Ombudsman’s office, headed by Anthony Reilly, investigates complaints about state government decisions. While not experiencing a sharp uptick in overall complaints in the past two years, many of those it did receive related to COVID-19 measures, such as border closures and hotel quarantine exemptions.
The commission, under Scott McDougall, reported a significant jump in pandemic-related inquiries and workloads. Both have powers to make recommendations after an investigation, and confirmed last September they were looking at complaints about state border restrictions.
A 2018 strategic review of the Ombudsman flagged a “deteriorating” budget position for the office and recommended its requests for additional funding be supported by the government.
This week’s budget papers contain a net increase in funding of $2 million over four years, with $585,000 in ongoing funding from 2025-26 to “ensure the sustainability and independence” of the Ombudsman’s work.
The agency’s full-time-equivalent staffing figure of 63 will carry into the 2022-23 financial year. A new Inspector of Detention Services function, to be established after passing parliament, has also been allocated $9.4 million for its first four years of operation and $3 million in ongoing annual funding.
Meanwhile, the Human Rights Commission received a $340,000 top-up to its budgeted funding from the government this financial year “to address a base funding shortfall and to respond to an increased demand for services”.