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Roles and functions

The Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman is a non-corporate Commonwealth entity
established under the Ombudsman Act 1976 (the Act). The Commonwealth Ombudsman has
the following major functions:

  • complaint management
  • oversight of Commonwealth agencies
  • oversight of prescribed private sector organisations
  • oversight of the Commonwealth Public Interest Disclosure Scheme
  • responding to reports of serious abuse within Defence
  • OPACT NPM Coordinator and Commonwealth NPM
  • Inspections of certain covert and intrusive powers by law enforcement bodies.

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

  • private health insurers
  • postal operators that elect to register with the Postal Industry Ombudsman scheme
  • some providers of education services.

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

  • Defence Force Ombudsman (DFO)— to investigate actions arising from the service of a member of the Australian Defence Force (ADF). The DFO can investigate complaints from current or former members of the ADF about administrative matters relating to Defence agencies. Since 1 December 2016, the DFO’s functions were expanded to provide an independent mechanism to report serious abuse in Defence.
  • Immigration Ombudsman—to investigate complaints and undertake own motion investigations about the Department of Home Affairs. The Ombudsman inspects immigration detention facilities and has a specific statutory reporting function to report to the Minister about people who have been detained for more than two years.
  • Law Enforcement Ombudsman—to investigate the 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 Parliament on an annual basis.
  • 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 on best practice for handling complaints from overseas students.
  • 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.
  • VET Student Loans Ombudsman (VSLO)— to investigate complaints from students studying a diploma, advanced diploma, graduate certificate or graduate diploma course and 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 on best practice complaint-handling.

The Commonwealth Ombudsman is also the ACT Ombudsman. The ACT Ombudsman’s role is delivered by the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman under an agreement between the ACT Government and the Commonwealth Ombudsman. The Ombudsman can deal with most complaints involving the administrative actions of the ACT Government agencies and police. The legislation governing the Ombudsman authorises us to investigate complaints about or issues related to:

  • ACT Government agencies
  • Reportable Conduct Scheme
  • ACT Police
  • Freedom of Information
  • Public Interest Disclosures

Additional information is available in the ACT Ombudsman Annual Report 2018–19.