The Commonwealth Ombusdman gave a presentation at an IPAA seminar earlier this month where he reported on the government review of 247 immigration cases and outlined some lessons for public administration as a result. The lessons are clear and concise. Following them will go a long way to reduce errors that are the consequence of systemic administrative problems. His 10 lessons were:
- Maintain accurate, comprehensive and accessible records.
- Place adequate controls on the exercise of coercive powers.
- Actively manage unresolved and difficult cases.
Heed the limitations of information technology systems.
Guard against erroneous assumptions.
Control administrative drift.
Remove obstacles to prudent information exchange with other agencies and bodies.
Promote effective communication in your own agency.
Manage complexity in decision making.
Check for warning signs of bigger problems.
He mentioned that the last lesson is probably the most important. The Rau, Alvarez and Solon immigration cases showed that flaws in an individual decision can highlight a much larger problem. Agencies should not wait for a crisis to eventuate but internally monitor and have good quality control and complaint handling procedures. Warning signs can then be picked up more easily and change initiated early.
Lessons learned from these exercises are particularly important to share where problems lie, how they can be rectified and to build a culture of learning and improvement.