Roles and functions

The Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman (the Office) is a non-corporate Commonwealth entity established under the Ombudsman Act 1976 (the Act). The Act came into effect on 1 July 1977 and is administered by the Prime Minister.

The Commonwealth Ombudsman has seven major functions:

  • complaint investigations
  • own motion investigations
  • compliance audits
  • immigration detention oversight
  • oversight of the Commonwealth Public Interest Disclosure scheme
  • accepting and responding to reports of serious abuse within Defence
  • private health insurance consumer information.

Table 1 – These functions are carried out by the branches as follows:

Branch Complaint investigations Own motion investigations Compliance audits Immigration detention oversight Oversight of the Commonwealth Public Interest Disclosure scheme Accepting and responding to reports of serious abuse within Defence Private health insurance consumer information
ExecutiveCarried outCarried outCarried outCarried outCarried outCarried outCarried out
OperationsCarried outCarried out     
IntegrityCarried outCarried outCarried out Carried out  
DefenceCarried outCarried out   Carried out 
Immigration, Industry and TerritoriesCarried outCarried outCarried outCarried out   
Social Services, Indigenous and DisabilityCarried outCarried out     
Corporate Services (including Private Health Insurance team)Carried outCarried outCarried out   Carried out

The Commonwealth Ombudsman has jurisdiction over all Commonwealth entities and their contracted service providers, subject to some specific statutory exclusions (such as the intelligence agencies). The Office also oversees the activities of a range of private sector organisations, including:

  • private health insurers
  • some postal operators, and
  • some providers of education services to overseas students.

The Commonwealth Ombudsman has the following separate titles that describe specific functions and powers:

  • Defence Force Ombudsman (DFO)—to investigate actions arising from the service of a member of the Australian Defence Force (ADF). The DFO can investigate complaints from current or former members of the Australian Defence Force about administrative matters relating to Defence agencies (such as the ADF and the Department of Veterans' Affairs). From 1 December 2016 the DFO's functions were expanded to provide an independent mechanism to report serious abuse in Defence.
  • Postal Industry Ombudsman (PIO)—to investigate complaints about Australia Post and private postal operators that elect to register with the Postal Industry Ombudsman scheme.
  • Overseas Students Ombudsman (OSO)—to investigate complaints from overseas students about private education providers in Australia. The OSO also gives private registered providers advice and training about best practice for handling complaints from overseas students.
  • Private Health Insurance Ombudsman (PHIO)—to protect the interests of private health insurance consumers. This is done in a number of ways including dispute resolution, identifying systemic issues within the practices of private health funds and providing advice and recommendations to government and industry. The PHIO can deal with complaints from health fund members, health funds, private hospitals or medical practitioners, however, complaints must be about a health insurance arrangement.
  • Immigration Ombudsman—to investigate complaints and undertake own motion investigations about the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. The Ombudsman has a specific statutory reporting function to report to the Minister on people who have been detained for more than two years and inspects immigration detention facilities.
  • Law Enforcement Ombudsman—to investigate conduct and practices of the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and its members. In addition, under the AFP Act, the Ombudsman is required to review the administration of the AFP's handling of complaints, through inspection of AFP records. The results of these reviews must be provided to the Parliament on an annual basis.
  • VET Student Loans Ombudsman (VSLO)—to investigate complaints from students studying a diploma, advanced diploma, graduate certificate or graduate diploma course, who have accessed the VET FEE-HELP or the VET Student Loans programs to cover the cost of their studies, in full or in part. The VSLO also provides vocational education and training providers with advice and training about best practice complaint-handling.

The Commonwealth Ombudsman is also the ACT Ombudsman. The ACT Ombudsman's role is delivered by the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman under a Service Agreement between the ACT Government and the Commonwealth Ombudsman. A Senior Assistant Ombudsman and a dedicated team have day-to-day responsibility for managing the relationship with ACT agencies and the ACT community. Our Operations Branch handles complaints about ACT Government agencies, ACT Policing and our National Assurance and Audit Team undertakes inspections of policing.

Additional information is located in the ACT Ombudsman Annual Report 2016–17.

Organisational structure

The Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman is located in Canberra, Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney.

The Ombudsman and Deputy Ombudsman are statutory officers appointed under the Ombudsman Act 1976. Employees are engaged pursuant to the Public Service Act 1999. Senior Assistant Ombudsmen are Senior Executive Service Band 1 employees. The Executive and Senior Management structure is provided at Figure 1.

Figure 1 – Executive and Senior Management structure at 30 June 2017

Figure 1 – Executive and Senior Management structure at 30 June 2017

Senior Leadership Group members

Senior Leadership Group (L to R): Chelsey Bell, Paul Pfitzner, Louise Macleod, Michael Manthorpe, Fiona Sawyers, Rodney Lee Walsh, Dermot Walsh and Doris Gibb. Photo taken in August 2017.

Senior Leadership Group (L to R): Chelsey Bell, Paul Pfitzner, Louise Macleod, Michael Manthorpe, Fiona Sawyers, Rodney Lee Walsh, Dermot Walsh and Doris Gibb. Photo taken in August 2017.

Michael Manthorpe – Commonwealth Ombudsman

Michael Manthorpe PSM

Michael Manthorpe PSM was appointed on 8 May 2017 as Commonwealth Ombudsman for a five year term. Coming to the role from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, where he led the Visa and Citizenship Services Group, he brings with him a wealth of experience from his many years in senior leadership roles across the public service.

Prior to joining the Department of Immigration and Border Protection in 2013, Michael was with the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations and its predecessors for 25 years, where he worked across program, policy, corporate and strategy roles.

He was awarded the Public Service Medal in 2010 for his leadership of the government's handling of the insolvency of ABC Learning childcare centres.

Michael grew up in Queensland and studied journalism and history at the University of Queensland.

Doris Gibb – Deputy Ombudsman (acting)

Doris Gibb

Doris Gibb joined the Office in June 2013 as Senior Assistant Ombudsman for Immigration and Overseas Students. The branch has since expanded to include the Postal Industry Ombudsman, Indian Ocean Territories and the ACT Ombudsman.

Her career in the Australian Public Service started in 1995 after 12 years with the Royal Australian Air Force. She has performed a range of leadership roles across the public service and has led several public policy initiatives in Centrelink, Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, the Defence Materiel Organisation and the Attorney-General's Department.

Doris has an Executive Masters in Public Administration and is currently undertaking a Graduate Certificate of Law at the Australian National University. She is also a convenor of the Canberra Australian and New Zealand School of Government Alumni.

Her experience ranges from delivery of unemployment services, to the formation of industry policy for small business.

Rodney Lee Walsh – Senior Assistant Ombudsman, Integrity Branch

Rodney Lee Walsh

Rodney Lee Walsh joined the Office in July 2011. The branch is responsible for statutory monitoring to Parliament on law enforcement matters, as well as the Public Interest Disclosure scheme and the International Program.

Rodney is a lawyer and mediator by training; inaugural convenor of the Commonwealth Complaint-Handling Forum and, since 2005, has held a range of SES roles including IT applications development, senior executive lawyer, organisational strategy, and state and national manager delivering a range of workplace relations inspectorate and employment programs.

Louise Macleod – Senior Assistant Ombudsman, Social Services, Indigenous and Disability Branch

Louise Macleod

Louise joined the Office in July 2016. Her public service career spans over 15 years in various leadership roles, conducting investigations, compliance monitoring and dispute resolution in agencies such as the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the Energy and Water Ombudsman Victoria, the Queensland Justice and Attorney-General's Dispute Resolution Centres and the Family Court of Australia. Prior to this, Louise spent seven years as an officer in the Australian Army and served on operations in East Timor.

Louise is a lawyer and mediator by training. She was part of the 2014–15 Tribunals Amalgamation Taskforce at the Attorney-General's Department and recently led the own motion investigation team into the Centrelink Online Compliance Intervention for the Ombudsman's Office.

In July 2017, Louise transferred to the role of Senior Assistant Ombudsman, Operations Branch.

Chelsey Bell – Senior Assistant Ombudsman (acting), Immigration, Industry and Territories Branch

Chelsey Bell

Chelsey Bell joined the Office as director of the ACT Ombudsman Team in July 2016 and commenced as acting Senior Assistant Ombudsman for the Immigration, Industry and Territories Branch in June 2017.

In addition to carrying out immigration related functions, the branch supports specialist roles related to the ACT, the postal industry, and both overseas and VET students. The acting Deputy Ombudsman Doris Gibb is the substantive Senior Assistant Ombudsman for the branch.

Chelsey's previous roles have had a strong focus on administrative law, public policy and human rights. She has worked for the Attorney-General's Department (Office of International Law), the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, Safe Work Australia and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

Tricia Hennessy – Senior Assistant Ombudsman (acting), Operations Branch

Tricia Hennessy has worked for the Commonwealth Ombudsman for 12 years in various roles, including Senior Investigation Officer and Policy Governance Officer. For the past four years she has been the director of the

Operations South Team, which comprises public contact and investigation officers located in several states. She commenced a period as Acting Senior Assistant Ombudsman (SAO) of the Operations Branch, following the retirement of Ms Helen Fleming and pending the selection of a new permanent SAO. Tricia previously worked for the Social Security Appeals Tribunal and the Department of Human Services – Centrelink. She is based in Adelaide.

Paul Pfitzner – Senior Assistant Ombudsman, Defence Branch

Paul Pfitzner

Paul Pfitzner joined the Office in September 2016 as part of the expansion of the Defence Force Ombudsman jurisdiction relating to reports of serious abuse within Defence. He is currently responsible for matters relating to Defence, both reports of serious abuse and influencing broader systemic improvement in Defence agencies. He also leads the work on the ACT Ombudsman's new Freedom of Information role.

Paul has been in the Commonwealth public service since 2003, most recently in senior roles in the Attorney-General's Department. He has worked in a variety of legal policy roles, relating to human rights, legal services, national security and criminal justice.

Dermot Walsh – Chief Operating Officer, Corporate Services Branch and Private Health Insurance

Dermot Walsh

Dermot Walsh joined the Office in November 2014 as the Chief Financial Officer. He moved to the Chief Operating Officer role in October 2015 and leads the Corporate Services Branch and also the Private Health Insurance Ombudsman function.

Before joining the Office, he held leadership roles in both the Australian and ACT Public Service, in a diverse range of organisations including the ACT Land Development Agency, ACT Economic Development Directorate, Comcare, the National Gallery of Australia, the Defence Service Homes Insurance Scheme and the Department of Veterans' Affairs.

Dermot has a Bachelor of Commerce and is a Fellow member of CPA Australia.

Fiona Sawyers – Senior Assistant Ombudsman, Social Services, Indigenous and Disability Branch

Fiona Sawyers

Fiona Sawyers joined the Office in July 2017 as Senior Assistant Ombudsman for Social Services, Indigenous and Disability Branch. Prior to joining the Office, Fiona held leadership roles in a variety of Commonwealth agencies and departments, including most recently in Indigenous education at the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Fiona has over 20 years' experience in social policy and program management, primarily at the Department of Social Services and its predecessors where she has worked on welfare and family payments, disability policy and housing support. Fiona's experience spans program management and implementation, research and evaluation, and policy development.

Fiona has lived and worked in rural NSW and in Canberra, and studied English literature and politics at the University of New South Wales.