What we do

We consider and 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 (DHS), and Department of Immigration and Border Protection. The Commonwealth Ombudsman is also the ACT Ombudsman.

Our aim is to resolve complaints impartially, informally and as quickly as reasonably practicable. If we cannot assist with a particular complaint, we will explain why, and suggest other avenues for resolving the matter.

We cannot override the decisions of the agencies we deal with, nor issue directions to their staff. Instead, we endeavor to resolve disputes through consultation and negotiation, and if necessary, by making formal recommendations to the most senior levels of government. Since the inception of the Commonwealth Ombudsman's office in 1977, we have assisted in resolving many thousands of individual complaints, and brought about significant improvements in the quality of government administration.

Our annual reports provide details of the numbers and types of complaints we deal with, and the ways in which they are resolved. Our strategic plan and portfolio budget statements (The Commonwealth Ombudsman is part of the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet portfolio. This is a link to their website.) explain our goals and priorities, and how our agency's operations are organised and funded.

Strategic Vision

The Commonwealth Ombudsman's strategic vision is to:

  • provide assurance that the Australian Government entities and prescribed private sector organisations that the Commonwealth Ombudsman oversights, act with integrity and treat people fairly, and
  • influence enduring systemic improvement in public administration in Australia and the region.

The Commonwealth Ombudsman Office's strategic direction and role is underpinned by the following four key concepts, or pillars:

  • Assurance - Providing a professional and impartial complaint handling and investigation service.
  • Integrity - Enhancing the Office's integrity role in assessing entity compliance with legislation in the use of covert or coercive powers.  Maintaining oversight of the Commonwealth Public Interest Disclosure Scheme.  Delivering agile and responsive immigration and private health insurance ombudsman capabilities.
  • Influence - By enhancing the trusted relationships the Office has with the Australian Government entities and industry sectors the Commonwealth Ombudsman oversights, the community and international partners; and continuing to influence, achieve outcomes and effect change through the Office's investigation of complaints, own motion investigations and recommendations to government.
  • Improvement - Continuing to encourage systemic improvement in public administration.

Mission

The Commonwealth Ombudsman's Office safeguards the community in its dealings with Australian Government departments / agencies and prescribed private sector organisations that it oversights by:

  • correcting administrative deficiencies through independent review  of complaints about Australian Government administrative action
  • fostering good public administration that is accountable, lawful, fair, transparent and responsive
  • assisting people to resolve complaints about government administrative action
  • developing policies and principles for accountability
  • reviewing statutory compliance by organisations it oversights.

Values

In addition to the Australian Public Service (APS) values the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman adheres to the following values:

  • independence
  • integrity
  • accessibility
  • professionalism.

How the Commonwealth Ombudsman's Office can help you

The Commonwealth Ombudsman safeguards the community in its dealings with Australian Government entities and certain private sector organisations.  The Commonwealth Ombudsman ensures that their administrative actions are fair and accountable by handling complaints, conducting investigations, performing audits and inspections, encouraging good administration and discharging specialist oversight tasks.

The Commonwealth Ombudsman's Office also influences improvement in public administration in the region through collaboration with partner entities.

The Commonwealth Ombudsman's Office has six major functions, these are:

  1. Complaint investigations: conducting investigations into, the administrative actions of Australian Government officials, agencies and their service providers upon receipt of complaints from individuals, groups or organisations. The role also includes investigating the actions of registered private providers of training for overseas students, registered private postal operators and private health insurance providers.
  2. Own-motion investigations: on the Ombudsman’s own initiative, conducting investigations into the administrative actions of Australian Government agencies, registered private providers of training for overseas students, registered private postal operators and private health insurance brokers. These investigations often arise from insights gained through handling individual complaints and our other oversight responsibilities.
  3. Compliance audits: inspecting the records of agencies such as the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and Australian Crime Commission (ACC) to ensure they comply with legislative requirements applying to selected law enforcement and regulatory agencies.
  4. Immigration detention oversight: under s 4860 of the Migration Act 1958, reporting to the Immigration Minister on the detention arrangements for people in immigration detention for two years or more (and on a six-monthly basis thereafter). The Immigration Ombudsman also oversights immigration detention facilities through a program of regular announced and unannounced visits to detention centres.
  5. The Commonwealth Public Interest Disclosure scheme: The office is responsible for promoting awareness and understanding of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013 and monitoring its operation; as well as providing guidance, information and resources about making, managing and responding to public interest disclosures.
  6. Private health insurance consumer information:
    This includes managing the consumer website “PrivateHealth.gov.au”, producing comparative complaint and performance reports about private health insurers, providing a range of advisory information products for consumers, and responding to consumer enquiries about health insurance.

Specialist Roles of the Commonwealth Ombudsman

Commonwealth Ombudsman
Defence Force Immigration Law Enforcement ACT Ombudsman Postal Industry Overseas Students Private Health Insurance

NOTE: Roles identified by the blue shading reflect Industry functions for the Commonwealth Ombudsman.

Defence Force Ombudsman

Complaints from serving or former members of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) are investigated by the Defence Force Ombudsman.  The office may also consider specific requests from Defence to undertake complex or sensitive investigations. From 1 December 2016 our role expanded to include an abuse reporting function for serving and former Defence members, and civilians deployed on operations. This provides a confidential mechanism to report sexual abuse, serious physical abuse and serious bullying and harassment within Defence, for those who feel unable to access Defence’s internal mechanisms.

Immigration Ombudsman

When performing functions in relation to immigration, the Commonwealth Ombudsman may also be called the Immigration Ombudsman.  The Immigration Ombudsman has oversight of the full range of functions undertaken by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (including the Australian Border Force).

Law Enforcement Ombudsman

When performing functions in relation to the Australian Federal Police (AFP), the Commonwealth Ombudsman may also be called the Law Enforcement Ombudsman. The office has a comprehensive role in the oversight of the AFP’s administrative processes associated with handling complaints.

ACT Ombudsman

Under the ACT Self-Government (Consequential Provisions) Act 1988 (Cth), the Commonwealth Ombudsman discharges the role of ACT Ombudsman.

Postal Industry Ombudsman

The Commonwealth Ombudsman is also the Postal Industry Ombudsman.  The Postal Industry Ombudsman investigates complaints about Australia Post and other registered private postal operators.

Overseas Students Ombudsman

The Commonwealth Ombudsman is also the Overseas Students Ombudsman.  The Overseas Students Ombudsman’s roles are:

  • (i) investigating individual complaints about the actions or decisions of a private-registered education provider in connection with an intending or                  former overseas student
  • (ii) working with private-registered education providers to promote best-practice handling of overseas students
  • (iii) reporting on trends and broader issues that arise from complaint investigations.

Private Health Insurance Ombudsman

The Commonwealth Ombudsman took on the role of the Private Health Insurance Ombudsman on 1 July 2016.  The role of the Private Health Insurance Ombudsman is to protect the interests of people covered by private health insurance.

In addition to the above specialist roles the Commonwealth Ombudsman has an oversight and awareness-raising role under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013 (PID).

We cannot investigate complaints about the actions of government  ministers or politicians; private individuals; state or local  governments and some government business enterprises; or private  businesses (except for some Australian Government contractors);  decisions of courts and tribunals; and public service employment  disputes (except in the Australian Defence Force).

How we carry out our responsibilities

The Commonwealth Ombudsman's Office will continue to develop as a high performing organisation characterised by:

  • an agile, capable and adaptive workforce that understands the broader political, bureaucratic and business environment in which we operate

  • a strong leadership cadre

  • an entrepreneurial attitude to seeking out and taking on new areas of work.