• Roles and functions
  • Our purpose
  • Outcome and programs
  • Organisational structure
  • Senior Leadership Group

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 was administered by the Prime Minister until 10 May 2018, when the Attorney-General commenced administering the Act.

The Commonwealth Ombudsman has the following 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.

Our purpose

The purpose1 of the Office is to:

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

Outcome and programs

The Office's outcome as described in the 2017–18 Portfolio Budget Statements2 is:

"Outcome 1–Fair and accountable administrative action by Australian Government entities and prescribed private sector organisations, by investigating complaints, reviewing administrative action and statutory compliance inspections and reporting."

The Office only has one program: "Program 1.1 – Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman".

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

  • private health insurers
  • some postal operators
  • some providers of education services.

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

  • Immigration Ombudsman–to investigate complaints and undertake own motion investigations about the Department of Home Affairs. The Ombudsman has a specific statutory reporting function to report to the Minister on people who have been detained for more than two years. The Office also inspects immigration detention facilities.
  • Law Enforcement Ombudsman–to investigate conduct and practices of the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and its members. Under the Australian Federal Police Act 1979 (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. We also inspect and report on other law enforcement agencies' use of covert and intrusive powers.
  • Defence Force Ombudsman (DFO)–to investigate actions arising from the service of a member of the Australian Defence Force (Defence). The DFO can investigate complaints from current or former members of Defence about administrative matters relating to Defence agencies. On 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

The Commonwealth Ombudsman is also the ACT Ombudsman. The ACT Ombudsman's role is delivered by the Office under a Service Agreement with the ACT Government.

Additional information on the role of the ACT Ombudsman is located in the 2017–18 ACT Ombudsman Annual Report.

Organisational structure

The Office is located in Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra, 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. The Senior Assistant Ombudsmen and Chief Operating Officer 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 2018

Figure 1 – Executive and senior management structure at 30 June 2018

Senior Leadership Group

Photo of Senior Leadership Group – Left to right: Autumn O'Keeffe, Paul Pfitzner, Fiona Sawyers, Jaala Hinchcliffe, Michael Manthorpe PSM, Rodney Lee Walsh and Dermot Walsh (Absent: Louise Macleod)

Senior Leadership Group (L to R): Autumn O'Keeffe, Paul Pfitzner, Fiona Sawyers, Jaala Hinchcliffe, Michael Manthorpe, Rodney Lee Walsh and Dermot Walsh. Photo taken in July 2018. (Absent: Louise Macleod)

Michael Manthorpe – Commonwealth Ombudsman

Photo of 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.

Jaala Hinchcliffe – Deputy Ombudsman

Photo of Deputy Ombudsman Jaala Hinchcliffe

Jaala Hinchcliffe was appointed to the position of Deputy Commonwealth Ombudsman on 6 November 2017. Prior to joining the Office, Jaala worked at Parliament House with the Department of Parliamentary Services, where she headed the People and Governance Branch, which was responsible for a range of corporate functions.

Jaala spent a significant portion of her career with the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions where, for 15 years, she worked across a range of legal functions, including as Senior Executive for Law Reform, and Policy and Strategic Review and Reform.

Jaala has been engaged in a number of community organisations in the ACT, including as a board member for Palliative Care ACT. She studied Arts and Law at the Australian National University and was admitted to practice as a Legal Practitioner in the ACT in 2000.

Fiona Sawyers – Senior Assistant Ombudsman, Strategy Branch

Photo of Senior Assistant Ombudsman, Strategy Branch, Fiona Sawyers

Fiona Sawyers joined the Office in July 2017. 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.

Louise Macleod – Senior Assistant Ombudsman, Complaints Management and Education Branch

Photo of Senior Assistant Ombudsman, Complaints Management and Education 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 led the team who conducted the own motion investigation into the Centrelink Online Compliance Intervention for the Ombudsman's Office.

Paul Pfitzner – Senior Assistant Ombudsman, Program Delivery Branch

Photo of Senior Assistant Ombudsman, Program Delivery 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 for reports of serious abuse and influencing broader systemic improvement in Defence agencies. He also has executive responsibility for the work of the ACT Ombudsman.

Paul has been in the Commonwealth public service since 2003. Prior to joining the Office, he held senior roles in the Attorney-General's Department in legal policy relating to human rights, legal services, national security and criminal justice.

Autumn O'Keeffe – Senior Assistant Ombudsman, Assurance Branch

Photo of Senior Assistant Ombudsman, Assurance Branch, Autumn O'Keeffe

Autumn O'Keeffe joined the Office in June 2018 as the Senior Assistant Ombudsman for the Assurance Branch. Autumn is a lawyer by training and commenced her public service career in 2004 at the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission where she worked on a range of issues including petrol price fixing, cartel behaviour and product safety.

Immediately prior to joining the Office Autumn worked at the Attorney-General's Department for 12 years in a wide variety of legal and policy areas including civil law, private international law, royal commissions, criminal justice and family law. In 2017 Autumn was a member of the delegation for Australia's appearances before both the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the Human Rights Committee.

Dermot Walsh – Senior Assistant Ombudsman, Industry Branch

Photo of Senior Assistant Ombudsman, Industry Branch, Dermot Walsh

Dermot Walsh has been the Chief Operating Officer since October 2015, in June 2018 he moved to the role of Senior Assistant Ombudsman of the newly established Industry Branch. The Industry Branch brings together all of the Office's industry ombudsman functions, including: private health insurance, postal industry, overseas students and VET student loans.

Before joining the Office, Dermot held leadership roles in both the Australian and ACT Public Service, in a diverse range of organisations including: the ACT Land Development Agency, the 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, is a Fellow member of CPA Australia and a member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

Rodney Lee Walsh – Chief Operating Officer, Corporate Branch

Photo of Chief Operating Officer, Corporate Branch, Rodney Lee Walsh

Rodney Lee Walsh joined the Office in July 2011. He is currently responsible for the agency's corporate functions and the Public Interest Disclosure Scheme.

Rodney is a lawyer and mediator. He has held a range of SES roles since 2005 including IT applications development, senior executive lawyer (administrative law), organisational strategy, workplace relations and national employment programs.


1 http://www.ombudsman.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0019/50356/Corporate-Plan-2017-18-Final_Online.pdf

2 https://www.pmc.gov.au/sites/default/files/publications/2017-18-pmc-portfolio-budget-statements_1.pdf (pp 227–245)