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Ombudsmen in Australia

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Ombudsmen in Australia

See Ombudsman for the definitions and examples of other ombudsman throughout the globe.

Government ombudsmen

Government ombudsman services are free to the public, like many other ombudsman and dispute resolution services, and are a means of resolving disputes outside of the court systems.

Australia has an ombudsman assigned for each state—as well as an ombudsman for the Commonwealth of Australia—as laws differ in some states and as such just one process, or policy, cannot be used across the board.

All government bodies are within the jurisdiction of the ombudsman.

Commonwealth ombudsmen

The Commonwealth Ombudsman in Australia was established in 1976. The Ombudsman can investigate complaints about the actions and decisions of Australian Government departments and agencies, the services delivered by most private contractors for the Australian Government, and oversee complaint investigations conducted by the Australian Federal Police.

The Ombudsman can also investigate complaints about delays in processing Freedom of Information requests (FOI) and complaints about FOI charges. The Commonwealth Ombudsman is also the Defence Force Ombudsman, Immigration Ombudsman, Postal Industry Ombudsman, Taxation Ombudsman, Law Enforcement Ombudsman and through an arrangement with the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Government, the ACT Ombudsman. In addition, the Ombudsman has a number of statutory oversight functions in relation to law enforcement agency use of special powers, including those under the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979, Surveillance Devices Act 2004 and Part 1AB of the Crimes Act 1914. The current Acting Commonwealth Ombudsman is Colin Neave. [1]

See Also List of Australian Commonwealth Ombudsmen

State ombudsmen

The various states in Australia have (variously described) state Ombudsman offices, with similar jurisdiction as described above, except over state government authorities. There is much collaboration in an academic sense between Ombudsmen in Australia, given the highly similar nature of their roles (despite differing jurisdictions). The offices frequently work on joint projects, such as those addressing difficult client behaviour.

New South Wales Ombudsman

The first NSW Ombudsman was appointed in 1975 and the legislation became operative in May that year. Since then, there have been many changes – public authorities have merged and separated and there have been five different Ombudsman. The current Ombudsman is Bruce Barbour.[2]

Ombudsman for the Northern Territory

The Ombudsman for the Northern Territory is independent of Government and provides a free service to the public. The current Ombudsman is Carolyn Richards.[3] The First Northern Territory Ombudsman was Harry C. Giese.

Ombudsman of South Australia

The SA Ombudsman is a completely independent official who has comprehensive power to investigate government departments and authorities and local government councils. The office provides 'free, impartial, informal and timely resolution of complaints to promote fairness, openness and good public administration in South Australia'. The current Ombudsman is Ken MacPherson.[4]

Ombudsman of Victoria

The Ombudsman of Victoria is an independent officer of the Victorian Parliament who investigates complaints about state government departments, most statutory authorities and local government. The current Ombudsman is George Brouwer.[5]

Ombudsman Western Australia

The Ombudsman of Western Australia investigates complaints about Western Australian State Government agencies, statutory authorities, local governments and public universities. The current Ombudsman for Western Australia is

Queensland Ombudsman

The Queensland Ombudsman's Office is an independent complaints investigation agency. Its role is to make sure that public agencies (State government departments and bodies, and local councils) act fairly and make the right decisions for Queenslanders. The current Ombudsman is Phil Clarke.[7]

Tasmanian Ombudsman

The Tasmanian Ombudsman investigates complaints regarding public authority administrative action and contravention of state privacy legislation, conducts Freedom of Information reviews in respect of government agencies and can accept public interest disclosures (i.e. whistleblowing complaints) and other miscellaneous functions (e.g. auditing of police telephone interception warrants). The current Ombudsman from March 2012 is Leon Atkinson-MacEwen.[8]

Industry and organisational ombudsmen

Unlike the government run ombudsman services, industry-based ombudsman resolve complaints made against their members, who are required to pay a yearly membership fee. Industry-based ombudsmen generally operate according to a constitution and are impartial in their decision-making. That is, they don't take sides—they are neither an industry nor a consumer advocate.

Like government run ombudsman services, the services of external/alternative dispute resolution (ADR) are free for consumers. The costs of the ombudsman services are usually charged to its members on a case by case basis, or can be determined on the amount of complaints that the company has received for that financial year. Generally the providers in a particular industry (for example telecommunications, energy and water, credit, insurance, public transport) are required to be members of an independent External Dispute Resolution scheme (EDR). A Board or Council with representatives of both industry and consumers as well as an independent Chair, is responsible for the operation of an industry-based Ombudsman. The Board or Council appoints the Ombudsman. Government or an independent regulator, such as the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) may be involved by approving the scheme and ensuring that it complies with certain standards.[9] Sometimes a Government Ombudsman is also an industry Ombudsman. An industry-based Ombudsman typically charges each member according to the number and/or the complexity of complaints it receives about the company. While the development of these facilities over the last 20 years has "lifted industry dispute resolution standards", the industry schemes have "stalled and cannot be described as world best practice".[10]

Energy and water

Financial industry

  • Credit Ombudsman Service Limited - COSL is the external dispute resolution (EDR) scheme for the non bank financial services industry, approved by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC). COSL assists with complaints about financial services providers including lenders, investment and financial planning services, insurance, non bank lenders, micro lenders, finance brokers, mortgage brokers, lenders mortgage insurance, accountants, tax agents, superannuation providers, credit providers, credit unions and building societies.
  • Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) — FOS assists with complaints about financial services providers including banks, credit unions and building societies, credit providers, non bank lenders, finance brokers, micro lenders, investment and financial planning services, insurance and some superannuation providers.[16]
  • Superannuation Complaints Tribunal — an independent Tribunal to deal with complaints about superannuation funds, annuities and deferred annuities; and Retirement Savings Accounts (RSAs).[17]

Other industries

  • Private Health Insurance Ombudsman
  • Produce and Grocery Industry Ombudsman
  • Public Transport Ombudsman VIC
  • Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO): a free and independent alternative dispute resolution scheme for small business and residential consumers in Australia who have a complaint about their telephone or internet service. Established in 1993 by the Australian Federal Government, the TIO is independent of industry, the government and consumer organisations. The TIO is authorised to investigate complaints about the provision or supply of telephone or internet services.[18]
  • Oxfam Australia operated a transnational Mining Ombudsman service (2000-2009) dealing with complaints against Australian mining companies.[19]

Other complaint-handling and review agencies

In some cases, it may be more appropriate for complaints to be investigated by the Information Commissioner (formerly the Privacy Commissioner) who investigates complaints about breaches of privacy; the Australian Human Rights Commission (previously the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission) which investigates complaints about discrimination because of race, sex or disability; or one of the other avenues of Australian Government administrative review. Review Tribunals can review the merits of an agency's decision, and they also have the power to change a decision.

  • Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT)
  • Migration Review Tribunal (MRT)
  • National Alternative Dispute Resolution Advisory Council (NADRAC)
  • Office of the Commissioner for Complaints (for complaints about Commonwealth funded aged care services)
  • Privacy Commissioner
  • Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT)
  • Social Security Appeals Tribunal (SSAT)
  • Veterans' Review Board

There are also several children's commissioner agencies at state and territory level.

Intelligence and security related complaints

Complaints about the actions/decisions of the organisations comprising the Australian intelligence community (listed below), may be lodged with the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, currently Ian Carnell.



  • Australian and New Zealand Ombudsman Association (ANZOA)[22]


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