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 Ombudsman

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 six different Ombudsman. Professor John McMillan is the current Acting Ombudsman and was appointed for a period of two years from August 2015.[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 officer of the Victorian Parliament. The stated role is to investigate complaints about state government departments, most statutory authorities and local government.[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 Chris Field.[6]

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 William Steadman.[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 claimed to be impartial in their decision-making. That is, they are said to not take sides—they are often required to act neither as an industry nor a consumer advocate.

Like government run ombudsman services, the services of external/alternative dispute resolution (ADR) are sometimes 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

Other industries

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.

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 Vivienne Thom.




  2. NSW Ombudsman website
  3. Ombudsman for the Northern Territory website
  4. SA Ombudsman website
  5. Victorian Ombudsman website
  6. "About us". WA Ombudsman.
  7. Queensland Ombudsman website
  8. Tasmanian Ombudsman website
  9. Financial services complaints scheme
  10. Dee, Bill; Smith and Wood (2009). "Industry Ombudsman Schemes Twenty Years On: World Benchmark of Industry Captured". Alternative Law Journal. 34 (3): 183–188.
  11. Energy & Water Ombudsman NSW website
  12. Energy & Water Ombudsman (Victoria) website
  13. Energy and Water Ombudsman (SA) website
  14. Energy Ombudsman of Tasmania website
  15. EWOWA information sheet
  16. ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal website
  17. Financial Ombudsman website
  18. Superannuation Tribunal website
  19. Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman
  20. Fair Work Ombudsman website
  21. Employee Ombudsman SA website
  22. Ombudsman Association website
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