The expanded ACT Official Visitor Scheme commenced on 1 September 2013 following the commencement of amendments to the Official Visitor Act 2012.
Under the expanded scheme, ACT’s Official Visitors are appointed by the ACT Attorney-General to visit places and make inquiries relating to an entitled person at a visitable place.
Official Visitors are appointed by the Minister responsible for the Official Visitor Act 2012 for a term of up to three years, to undertake the role of Official Visitor for the purposes of the following Acts:
- Official Visitor Act 2012
- Children and Young People Act 2008
- Mental Health (Treatment and Care) Act 1994
- Corrections Management Act 2007
- Disability Services Act 1991
- Housing Assistance Act 2007
Administrative arrangements under the scheme are the responsibility of the Official Visitors’ Board chaired by The Public Trustee and Guardian.
Who are Official Visitors?
Official Visitors are appointed by the Minister responsible for the Official Visitor Act 2012. The scheme provides a monitoring and complaints system for entitled person in a visitable place, who are dependent on the service provider or accommodation manager supporting them.
The ACT has Official Visitors for Children and Young People, ACT Health (Mental Health), Corrections, Disability and Housing (Homelessness) who visit persons staying in institutions owned, operated or funded by the ACT Government known as a visitable place.
In respect to Corrections and Children & Young People, the scheme also provides for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Official Visitors.
Visitable place is defined as a place specified under the legislation above and includes:
- detention facilities;
- therapeutic protection places;
- places of care;
- a mental health facility;
- correctional centres and places outside correctional centres where detainees are directed to work or participate in activities;
- a place in a correctional centre where a detainee is receiving treatment or care for mental dysfunction or mental illness;
- a Territory operated disability accommodation for respite or long term residential purposes; and
- a multiple occupancy supported accommodation facility for homeless people provided by an entity funded by the Territory.
Info The term visitable place includes the ability for the Disability Official Visitors to visit aged care facilities where younger people with disabilities reside.
Official Visitors are members of the community from a range of cultural, professional and personal backgrounds with skill and experience relevant to the role and work independently of government administration.
Role of Official Visitors
Official visitors aim to safeguard standards of treatment and care and advocate for the rights and dignity of people being treated under the legislation referred to above.
The objective of the scheme is to detect and prevent systemic dysfunction in the specified environments. Official Visitors achieve this by visiting visitable places, talking to entitled persons, inspecting records, reporting on the standard of facilities and reporting to the operational Minister and other public authorities. Official visitors also fulfil a more direct and informal function within their respective environments by resolving grievances and lesser issues.
Contacting an Official Visitor
Official Visitors are available during business hours from Monday to Friday. Persons wishing to speak to an Official Visitor outside of these hours, should make enquiries through the institution concerned. Alternatively a contact form is provided to leave a message for the appropriate Official Visitor.
Entitled persons at visitable places can let the staff know if they want to see an Official Visitor.
An official visitor may be contacted by calling 1800 150 036 and following the prompts. A recorded message will direct the caller to the appropriate Official Visitor. Persons calling this number may be asked to provide their name, phone number and the place they would like the Official Visitor to visit.
For persons with a hearing disability, who have a TTY phone, we have installed a TTY phone to receive your request and arrange a visit by the official visitor for the purposes of the Disability Services Act 1991. The TTY phone number is 1800 424 183. This phone is however only attended to during business hours on week days.
Official Visitors’ Board
The Official Visitors Board was established on 1 September 2013 by the Official Visitor Amendment Bill 2013.
The Board comprises:
- the Public Trustee and Guardian (Chair);
- the Public Advocate of the ACT;
- a Commissioner under the Human Rights Commission Act 2005; and
- two Official Visitors elected by the Official Visitors.
The Board meets at least twice each year and has the following functions:
- to arrange training for official visitors;
- to facilitate interaction between official visitors;
- to arrange for the provision of administrative assistance to official visitors; and
- to exercise any other function given to the board under the Official Visitor Act, an operational Act or another Territory law.
Official Visitor Guidelines
Under the Official Visitor Act, the Minister responsible for the Official Visitor Act 2012 may make guidelines about visits by Official Visitors and the handling of complaints.
Guidelines include the names of the places that an Official Visitor must visit and the frequency of such visits and are published on the ACT Legislation Register.