Ombudsmen in Australia are independent agencies who assist when a dispute arises between individuals and industry bodies or government agencies. 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 between states just one process, or policy, cannot be used across the Commonwealth. All government bodies are within the jurisdiction of the ombudsman.
The Commonwealth Ombudsman is also the Defence Force Ombudsman, Immigration Ombudsman, Postal Industry Ombudsman, Law Enforcement Ombudsman, VET Student Loans Ombudsman, Overseas Students Ombudsman and the Private Health Insurance Ombudsman. Many industries, such as aged care, banking, energy and water, telecommunications, etc, also have ombudsmen or similar bodies that assist with dispute resolution.
The Commonwealth Ombudsman in Australia was established in 1977. The Ombudsman can investigate complaints from people who believe they have been treated unfairly or unreasonably by an Australian Government department / agency or prescribed private sector organisation, including Australia Post, Centrelink, Child Support and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.
The Commonwealth Ombudsman is also the Defence Force Ombudsman, Immigration Ombudsman, Postal Industry Ombudsman, Law Enforcement Ombudsman, VET Student Loans Ombudsman, Overseas Students Ombudsman and the Private Health Insurance Ombudsman. Through an arrangement with the Government of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), the Commonwealth Ombudsman is also the ACT Ombudsman. The Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman (the Office) also delivers an International Program, funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, to improve the governance and accountability in the Asia-Pacific region, and supports and monitors the administration by other agencies of the Public Interest Disclosure (PID) scheme established under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013. In addition, the Ombudsman has a number of statutory oversight functions in relation to law enforcement agencies' 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 Commonwealth Ombudsman is Michael Manthorpe.
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.
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 seven different Ombudsmen. Michael Barnes is the current Ombudsman and was appointed in December 2017.
The Ombudsman for the Northern Territory is independent of Government and provides a free service to the public. The current Ombudsman is Carolyn Richards.
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 Wayne Lines.
The Victorian Ombudsman investigates complaints from the public about local councils and State Government departments and agencies. It provides services that are 'free, fair and independent'. Deborah Glass is the current Victorian Ombudsman.
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.
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 Queensland Ombudsman is Anthony Reilly, who was appointed to the role in July 2020.
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.
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 number 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. 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".
The Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) is the external dispute resolution (EDR) scheme for all complaints regarding the financial services industry, approved by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).
AFCA helps individuals and small businesses to resolve complaints about financial products and services and assists with complaints including credit, finance & loans, insurance, banking deposits & payments, investments & financial advice and superannuation.
David Locke was appointed Chief Ombudsman of AFCA in November 2018 when AFCA commenced operation and replaced the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS), the Credit and Investments Ombudsman (CIO) and the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal (SCT).
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.
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.