The activities of the the Commonwealth Ombudsman office are governed by a number of Commonwealth and ACT laws.
These include Ombudsman Act 1976, Ombudsman Regulations 2017 , Freedom of Information Act 1982 , Australian Federal Police Act 1979 , Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 , Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013 , the ACT’s Ombudsman Act 1989 and Freedom of Information Act 2016. More detailed information about our responsibilities under these and other laws is provided below.
Australian Capital Territory
Under ACT legislation, and by arrangement between the Australian and ACT governments, the Commonwealth Ombudsman is also the Ombudsman for the ACT. The ACT Ombudsman is given powers under the Territory’s Ombudsman Act 1989 (ACT), Public Interest Disclosure Act 2012 and the Freedom of Information Act 2016.
Further information about the ACT Ombudsman’s functions relating to these various Acts can be found here.
Oversight as the ACT Ombudsman
The ACT Ombudsman has responsibility for inspecting the records of law enforcement agencies in relation to the use of certain covert and intrusive powers under ACT legislation.
In the Office’s capacity as the ACT Ombudsman, we provide oversight of agencies’ compliance with the Crimes (Controlled Operations) Act 2008 (ACT), Crimes (Surveillance Devices) Act 2010 (ACT), Crimes (Assumed Identities) Act 2009 (ACT), and Part 3.11 and Chapter 4 of the Crimes (Child Sex Offenders) Act 2005 (ACT).
The results of our inspections are included in the ACT Ombudsman Annual Report.
Our ACT Ombudsman Annual Report can be found here.
Australian Federal Police
Complaints made on or after 30 December 2006
The Ombudsman is also the Law Enforcement Ombudsman and can investigate complaints about the actions of Australian Federal Police (AFP) members and about the policies, practices and procedures of the AFP as an agency.
Anyone can make a complaint about the AFP, but we encourage you to try to resolve your concerns with the AFP before you make a complaint to the Law Enforcement Ombudsman.
AFP Professional Standards (PRS) is responsible for resolving complaints about the actions of AFP appointees in accordance with Part V of the Australian Federal Police Act 1979 . The Ombudsman reports to the Parliament, at least annually, on the comprehensiveness and adequacy of the AFP’s complaint handling.
If you remain dissatisfied after making a complaint to the AFP, you can make a complaint to the Commonwealth Ombudsman under the Ombudsman Act 1976.
Complaints made before 30 December 2006
Complaints made about the AFP before 30 December 2006 are jointly managed by the AFP and the Ombudsman under the Law Enforcement (AFP Professional Standards and Related Measures) Act 2006 . In most cases, complaints are investigated by the AFP's Professional Standards Team, but the Ombudsman may take over an investigation or, in some circumstances including where a complaint is about practices and procedures, conduct the investigation from the start.
The Ombudsman has oversight of investigations conducted by AFP's Professional Standards team, and only the Ombudsman can decide an investigation should not be conducted, although many complaints are resolved by conciliation. The Act provides for disciplinary action against AFP appointees and for the Ombudsman to report following an investigation.
The Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman is created by the Ombudsman Act 1976 (the Ombudsman Act).
The Ombudsman Act provides that the Ombudsman shall investigate the administrative actions of Australian Government departments, agencies and prescribed private sector organisations.
The Ombudsman Act also gives the Ombudsman jurisdiction to investigate the actions of Commonwealth service providers as if the relevant department or authority had taken those actions.
This means that the Ombudsman may in some circumstances investigate the delivery of goods or services by a contractor to members of the public.
The Ombudsman Act also sets out the limits on the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction; for example, the Ombudsman may not investigate some actions related to Australian Government employment, or the actions of judges and ministers.
The Act provides the Ombudsman with an extensive range of powers to investigate actions following complaints or on the Ombudsman’s own motion. The Act also permits the Ombudsman, in some circumstances, to decline to investigate. For example, the Ombudsman may decline to investigate until a matter has been raised with the relevant agency.
Following an investigation, the Ombudsman Act enables the Ombudsman to report in a number of ways, although it requires the investigation itself to be conducted in private and with procedural fairness afforded to anyone likely to be criticised.
Oversight of covert and intrusive law enforcement powers
The Ombudsman inspects and reports on law enforcement and integrity agencies’ use of certain covert and intrusive powers under the following Commonwealth legislation:
- Crimes Act 1914 (Controlled Operations, Delayed Notification Search Warrants, Monitoring of Compliance with Part 5.3 Supervisory Orders, Account Takeover Warrants)
- Surveillance Devices Act 2004 (including Surveillance Device Warrants, Tracking Device Authorisations, Computer Access Warrants, Data Disruption Warrants)
- Telecommunications Act 1997 (Industry Assistance)
- Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 (Telecommunications Interception, Stored Communications, Telecommunications Data, International Production Orders).
These inspections serve as an important community safeguard and public assurance measure. They provide transparency around the use of covert powers and accountability that these powers are used as intended. Inspections also assist law enforcement agencies to continually improve governance frameworks, compliance culture and administrative practice.
More information about our inspections can be found here .
Oversight of coercive examination powers
The Office of the Ombudsman also conducts reviews of the Fair Work Ombudsman and the Australian Building and Construction Commission’s use of coercive powers to obtain information under:
This role requires the Ombudsman to review each examination and ensure compliance with the relevant legislation.
More information about our inspections can be found here .
Defence Force Ombudsman
Part IIA of the Ombudsman Act 1976 gives the Ombudsman the function of Defence Force Ombudsman (DFO).
The DFO can investigate complaints about administrative actions and Defence Force employment matters. The DFO cannot investigate actions connected with disciplinary proceedings or the grant or refusal of an honour or award to an individual. The DFO investigates complaints from serving members only after they have exhausted internal grievance mechanisms, unless there are exceptional circumstances. The DFO also investigates complaints from ex-service personnel or their families.
Under the Ombudsman Regulations 2017 , the Defence Force Ombudsman is able to receive reports of serious abuse within the Australian Defence Force (Defence). This provides a confidential mechanism to report serious abuse for those who feel unable, for whatever reason, to access Defence’s internal mechanisms. Serious abuse means sexual abuse, serious physical abuse or serious bullying or harassment which occurred between two (or more) people who were employed in Defence at the time.
Freedom of Information (FOI)
The Freedom of Information Act 1982 ( FOI Act) provides a general right of access to documents held by government agencies. The FOI Act requires decisions on access to be made promptly and at relatively low cost. It permits requests for documents to be refused for specific reasons – broadly concerned with ensuring that particular types of sensitive information is properly protected – with all decisions subject to internal and external review.
Complaints about agency actions related to FOI requests – including decisions, delays and refusal or failure to act – can be made to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner. However, the Ombudsman is also able to receive and investigate FOI-related complaints under the Ombudsman Act. If the Ombudsman forms the view it would be more appropriate for an FOI-related complaint to be dealt with by the Information Commissioner, the Ombudsman is able to transfer the matter to them for further action.
Since amendments were made to the Ombudsman Act 1976 in December 2005, the Commonwealth Ombudsman, in performing functions in relation to immigration and detention, was known as the Immigration Ombudsman.
In addition to the general approaches received regarding immigration matters, the Ombudsman is required, as soon as practicable, to prepare an assessment of the appropriateness of arrangements for people who have been in immigration for two years, and then every six months for as long as they remain in detention. The Minister must table the Ombudsman’s assessments (a de-identified version) within 15 sitting days of receipt of the assessment, along with a response to any recommendations made by the Ombudsman.
Functions relating to OPCAT
In December 2017, Australia ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT). The Ombudsman has three specific functions under OPCAT:
- Commonwealth National Preventive Mechanism (NPM): As the Commonwealth NPM, the Ombudsman is responsible for regularly visiting places of detention under the control of the Commonwealth, including immigration detention centres and Australian Federal Police and Australian Defence Force holding facilities.
- NPM Coordinator: As the NPM Coordinator, the Ombudsman is responsible for coordinating the Australian NPM Network, comprising the Commonwealth, state and territory inspecting bodies nominated by their governments as NPMs.
- Multi-body NPM: The ACT Ombudsman is one part of the multi‑body NPM for places of detention under the control of the ACT, alongside the ACT Inspector of Correctional Services and the ACT Human Rights Commission.
More information about the Ombudsman’s OPCAT-related functions can be found here.
Legislation and legal information
The links to Commonwealth legislation from this website are to the Commonwealth Register of Legislation maintained by the Australian Government; an alternative source is provided by the Australian Legal Information Institute (AUSTLII). The Ombudsman is not responsible for the content of these sites.
For an authoritative copy of ACT legislation, go to the ACT Government Legislation Register
There is a range of services that can assist people with a legal problem. These services are delivered by legal assistance providers. Different legal assistance providers operate in all states and territories. Each of these services provide different levels of legal information and advice. See Legal assistance services | Attorney-General's Department (ag.gov.au) for more information.
For legal information online, the following site may be useful: Australian Pro Bono Centre | Self-Help Legal Information
Public interest disclosures
All Australian government agencies, Commonwealth companies and public authorities have responsibilities under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013 (PID Act) to investigate reports made by public officials of suspected wrongdoing and take appropriate action. Disclosers are also afforded protections from reprisal action and certain immunities from liability.
The Commonwealth Ombudsman has a key role in the monitoring and oversight of the PID scheme. For further information see the PID page.
You can view our privacy statement relating to our PID functions here.