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12.5.10 The Commonwealth Ombudsman

Role of the Commonwealth Ombudsman

The Ombudsman Act 1976 provides that the Ombudsman is to investigate the administrative actions of Australian Government agencies.    

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The Ombudsman and the Law

The activities of the Ombudsman's office are governed by a number of Commonwealth and ACT laws. The most important of these are the Ombudsman Act 1976, the Freedom of Information Act 1982, the Complaints (Australian Federal Police) Act 1981, the Telecommunications (Interception) Act 1979, the ACT's Ombudsman Act 1989 and Freedom of Information Act 1989.

Powers of the Commonwealth Ombudsman

The Act provides the Ombudsman with an extensive range of powers to investigate actions following a complaint. The Act also provides that the Ombudsman can decline to investigate, for example, if the matter has not been put to the relevant agency. The Act also sets out the limits on the Ombudsman's jurisdiction, for example, the Ombudsman may not investigate some actions related to Commonwealth employment, or the actions of judges and ministers.

Reports of the Ombudsman's investigations

The Act enables the Ombudsman to report in a number of ways following an investigation. However the investigation itself to be conducted in private and with fairness to anyone likely to be criticised.

Ombudsman may recommend payments

The Commonwealth Ombudsman may also recommend that an 'act of grace' payment be made.    

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Other Australian Government complaint handling agencies

In some cases it may be more appropriate for a complaint to be investigated by:

  • the Privacy Commissioner, who investigates complaints about breaches of privacy;
  • the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, which investigates complaints about discrimination because of race, sex or disability.

Australian Government administrative review agencies including the [glossary:Administrative Appeal:] — [glossary:s:] [glossary:Tribunal:], the Social Security Appeals Tribunal, the Veterans' Review Board, the Immigration Review Tribunal and the Refugee Review Tribunal.

The Veterans' Review Board is an independent statutory authority that has the power to review decisions made by the Repatriation Commision for the disability pension, war widow's/widower's pension, orphan's pension and attendant allowance.