State and Federal Ombudsmen Offices
The Ombudsman carries out a series of other functions related to the administration of government. These often cover specific statutes, and the areas that an Ombudsman can investigate are different at State and Federal levels. Generally speaking, a Commonwealth Ombudsman receives complaints and hears appeals on Commonwealth matters. State Ombudsmen, such as the Tasmanian Ombudsman, receives complaints and hears appeals arising from State administrative functions.
At the State level, the Tasmanian Ombudsman can receive complaints and hear appeals on issues that arise from local government and Tasmanian state government department decisions. This includes such bodies as:
- Hobart City Council (and other municipal councils); ans
- State government departments, such as the Department for Primary Industry, Parks, Water, and Evironment (DPIWE).
The Tasmanian Ombudsman provides a free, independent complaint handling service to investigate complaints about administrative actions of Tasmanian Government Departments, most statutory authorities and Local Government. The Ombudsman is also the final review body for Right to Information requests.
The Ombudsman is an independent person who investigates complaints by gathering evidence from both sides, whilst not acting as an advocate for either, and making a decision based on the principles of what is generally accepted to be fair and reasonable. The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to government departments, most statutory authorities or councils for remedial action or reversal of a decision.
In Tasmania, the statutory functions of the Tasmanian Ombudsman include:
- Reviewing decisions made under the Right to Information Act 2009;
- Disclosure decisions under the Public Interest Disclosures Act 2002;
- Release of information decisions under the Adoption Act 1998,
- Hearing appeals against decisions of the Commissioner of Police under the Witness Protection Act2000 to terminate protection;
- investigating complaints under the Energy Ombudsman Act 1998, the Personal Information Protection Act 2004, and the Water and Sewerage Industry Act 2008;
- examining Tasmania Police compliance with the Telecommunications (Interception) Tasmania Act1999, the Police Powers (Controlled Operations) Act 2006 and the Police Powers (Surveillance Devices) Act2006; and
- fulfilling the role of Health Complaints Commissioner under the Health Complaints Act 1995.
The federal, or Commonwealth Ombudsman, addresses administrative complaints and appeals that arise from Commonwealth legislation and Commonwealth departments. As mentioned, this includes areas such as:
- the Defence Force;
- the Postal Industry;
- Overseas Students;
- Law Enforcement;
- Taxation; and
- The Australian Capital Territory (ACT).
The Commonwealth Ombudsman is an independent person appointed to investigate complaints about Commonwealth Government agencies like Centrelink or the Tax Office, and has headquarters in Canberra.
The Ombudsman’s Office has two important functions. Firstly, the Ombudsman can investigate and resolve citizens’ complaints. Secondly, but equally as important, the Ombudsman can improve public administration by identifying problems within the system and recommending changes which will prevent further occurrences of the same problem.
Most complaints to the Ombudsman concern agencies like the Australian Taxation Office, Centrelink and the Child Support Agency. Many of these complaints came from people living in regional Australia.
The Commonwealth Ombudsman’s Office was one of the first government agencies to go online. The Ombudsman’s website provides access to information, contact details for any of its offices and an electronic complaint form.
For some years now the Ombudsman’s Office has operated a National Complaints Line (telephone 1300 362 072) which enables people living in regional Australia to connect with their nearest Ombudsman Office for the cost of a local call. Australians living away from the main population centres suffer the same types of problems as other Australians. They all pay tax and members of such communities are involved with the Child Support Agency, Centrelink or the Department of Veterans’ Affairs for income support payments and other services. Employment services, training and education are also important issues in regional Australia.
Complaints about the government agencies mentioned account for most of the Ombudsman’s work. Many of these complaints are caused by simple agency or client error and around 50 per cent of cases are resolved in less than a week. Complex cases can take much longer to resolve.
A person with a complaint should always try to resolve their problem with the government agency concerned before coming to the Ombudsman’s Office. The Ombudsman’s Office may not investigate if the person has not tried the agency first.
The Commonwealth Ombudsman has powers under numerous Acts. Some of these are Commonwealth, and some are ACT. The most important of the Commonwealth Acts are the:
- Ombudsman Act 1976;
- Freedom of Information Act 1982;
- Australian Federal Police Act 1979; and the
- Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979.
Other areas of jurisdiction, such as immigration and defence are covered in the Ombudsman Act 1976. This Act gives authority to the Ombudsman office to receive and investigate complaints in these areas.