Last updated 20 May 2022
A person aggrieved by a government decision or action may consider informal complaint avenues, merits review, administrative appeal, judicial review and/or complaint to an external complaints organisation.
Before considering formal complaints options, an informal approach with the government agency concerned may be worthwhile, if time allows. Care must be taken to ensure that the informal process does not interfere with formal time limits if formal review processes are available for the decision.
An informal approach is inexpensive and may sort out the issue without further expense and time. At the very least, the position of the agency concerned should be clearer after a reply from the relevant department or minister.
Contacting the local member of parliament
A complaint to the local member of parliament can be useful, especially if no legal grounds for challenging an apparently unfair decision exist.
Contacting local interest and community groups
Where a decision of government affects a group of people, and there is unlikely to be a formal complaint avenue, joining or creating a community group can be a useful means of advocating for change.
Making an informal complaint to the government department or minister
A letter to the relevant government department or minister referring to any complaints policies and requesting a response within a specified time period can be useful.
To find out the relevant government minister for the department contact the government agency or relevant ombudsman.
Internal merits review
Many government departments have internal review processes, which allow a second decision maker to consider the merit of the decision. A successful internal review may result in a fresh decision being made. In cases where no administrative appeal exists, an internal merits review may be a cost-effective, timely and effective way of resolving the complaint.
Where an internal review is unsuccessful, particular attention should be paid to the timeframe within which an external administrative appeal or judicial review must be brought. This time limit is generally written in the decision letter or statement of reasons from the government department.
Where an internal merits review process exists, it often must be exhausted before an administrative appeal can be sought. For example, a person reviewing a decision by Blue Card Services not to issue a positive notice must first bring an internal merit review before commencing proceedings in the Queensland Civil and Administrative Appeals Tribunal (QCAT).
Administrative appeal or judicial review
Avenues for challenging government decisions exist at a Queensland local law, state government and Commonwealth government level.
Before an application is made, it is important to find out whether there is an internal review process provided for in the relevant department or authority. Any internal review mechanisms should ordinarily be exhausted before an application is made to QCAT, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) or to a court for judicial review.
For further information Complaints against Government—Judicial Review and Complaints against Government—Administrative Appeals chapters.
Challenging Queensland local government decisions
In Queensland, the ultimate control of local councils rests with the Minister for Local Government and complaints about the actions of local councils are dealt with under Queensland law. Administrative decisions made by local government are subject to the rules of administrative law and, depending on the decision, may be reviewable internally through administrative appeal or judicial review.
Challenging Queensland Government decisions
Queensland State Government action may be challenged by:
- judicial review by the Supreme Court of Queensland
- appeal to QCAT, provided that QCAT has jurisdiction over the decision. A small number of state bodies are not subject to review in QCAT (e.g. the Mental Health Tribunal and the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission).
Challenging Commonwealth Government decisions
Commonwealth Government actions can be challenged by:
- judicial review by the High Court of Australia
- judicial review by the Federal Court of Australia or Federal Circuit and Magistrates Court
- application for review to the AAT where permitted.
External complaints organisations
A number of legislatively established independent organisations exist at a state and Commonwealth level to consider government actions and decision making. Review by these agencies can be considered alongside other avenues of administrative review.
Complaints against government departments may be made to the appropriate state or Commonwealth Ombudsman.
The Queensland Ombudsman
The Queensland Ombudsman can consider complaints about:
- Queensland Government organisation, including state schools and TAFE
- Queensland local council
- Queensland public university
- local governments
- public authorities
This is not an exhaustive list.
The Queensland Ombudsman may investigate and consult with the government organisation and make non-binding recommendations.
The Commonwealth Ombudsman
The Commonwealth Ombudsman can consider complaints about Australian Government agencies including:
- Australia Post
- the Department of Social Services
- the Australian Taxation Office
- the Australian Federal Police.
The Commonwealth Ombudsman may gather information, give an explanation and make non-binding suggestions for how the agency can act in future.
The Queensland Human Rights Commission
In Queensland, a person who believes that the action or decision by the government department was discriminatory or failed to consider their human rights, may also complain to the Queensland Human Rights Commission.
The Queensland Human Rights Commissioner can consider complaints under the Human Rights Act against public entities (including the Queensland Government, departments and local governments) that are acting or making decisions in a way that is not compatible with human rights, or failing to give proper consideration to a human right that is relevant to the decision.
The Queensland Human Rights Commissioner may conduct a conciliation conference and publish de-identified reports about the complaint and recommendations for the public entity to act compatibly with human rights.
The Crime and Corruption Commission
The Crime and Corruption Commission handles complaints about corrupt conduct and some complaints about police.
The Office of the Information Commissioner
This office handles decisions of Queensland government agencies and ministers in relation to information access and amendment, as well as breaches of privacy.
The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner
This office handles complaints about the handling of personal information by a Commonwealth government agency.