Commonwealth Ombudsman


In the “Making a Complaint” brochure the Ombudsman claims to “independent and impartial“.

However the Commonwealth Ombudsman is a political appointee and the history of the former Ombudsman Mr Allan Asher demonstrated what happens if the Ombudsman falls foul of his or her political masters. Mr Asher was forced to resign after only 14 months into a 5 year contract after being politically connect to The Greens.

The Government is yet to find a politically suitable replacement for Mr Asher. Ms Alison Larkins is currently the acting Commonwealth Ombudsman.

In another brochure “Administrative Deficiency” the Ombudsman categorizes the types of Administrative Deficiency the Ombudsman can investigate.

These include:

  • Unprofessional behaviour by an officer
  • Beach of duty/misconduct by an officer (eg Breach of the APS Code of Conduct)
  • Legal error (eg a denial of Procedural Fairness (Natural Justice))

Under the Ombudsman Act 1976 the Ombudsman has been provided with “discretionary” powers to decide with Complaints the Ombudsman will investigate and which Complaints the Ombudsman will decline to investigate.

However under Section 12(1) of the Act, the Ombudsman MUST provide a reason to the Complainant for deciding not to investigate the Complaint.

Where the Ombudsman does not, for any reason, investigate action taken by a Department or by a prescribed authority in respect of which a complaint has been made to him or her, the Ombudsman shall, as soon as practicable inform the complainant of his or her decision and of the reasons for his or her decision“.

As a matter of Procedural Fairness the Complainant then has the opportunity to request an Internal Review by another Investigating Officer of the first decision not to investigate.

The Ombudsman can investigate complaints about the actions and decisions of Australian Government agencies to see if they are wrong, unjust, unlawful, discriminatory or just plain unfair.

Well that is the rhetoric but what about the reality?

In most cases (88%) the Ombudsman does not even bother to investigate complaints (Approaches) {this is not well advertised for obvious reasons} , however under Section 12 of the Ombudsman Act 1976 the Ombudsman MUST provide the complainant with a reason for the decision not to investigate the complaint.

Furthermore the Complainant is entitled to an Internal Review of the decision not to investigate.

The Ombudsman receives between 35,000 and 45,000 Complaints every year.

However even though the number of Complaints about the actions or decisions of Federal Government Agencies varies the percentage of Complaints the Ombudsman declines to investigate remains steady at around 88%!

So the Ombudsman is able to select the “easy” Complaints with little or no political implications to investigate and then reject the more difficult Complaints.

Also under the Ombudsman’s Service Charter this is what the Ombudsman promises.

In all cases we will:

  • Acknowledge written complaints within seven working days, and resolve all complaints as soon as possible. The time taken to resolve complaints varies because of their complexity and other factors.

But what happens when someone lodges complaints about the systemic misconduct of Public Servants in a Government Agency?

Refer to the Dossier tab for case studies provided by  Members of Australian Guardians for examples of  how the Commonwealth Ombudsman covers-up for Public Servants who misconduct themselves in Public Office.

As Tom Petri stated:

“It is not the original scandal that gets people in the most trouble. It is the attempted cover-up”

Australian Guardians – Protecting your wealth when no one else will®

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