Last updated 15 August 2022
Complaints against the Australian Federal Police (AFP) are made to AFP Professional Standards pursuant to the Australian Federal Police Act 1979 (Cth) (AFP Act) and to the Commonwealth Ombudsman in the role of the Law Enforcement Ombudsman pursuant to the Ombudsman Act 1976 (Cth). In addition, a new agency, the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI) established by the Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner Act 2006 (Cth) (LEIC Act) is responsible for investigating allegations of corruption by AFP officers. These avenues of complaint may be used in addition to any other legal rights of complaint. Complainants remain free to commence a civil action seeking damages for a wrong.
Complaints to the Australian Federal Police Professional Standards
In the first instance, the Commonwealth Ombudsman encourages complainants to resolve their concerns with the AFP through AFP Professional Standards. Part V of the AFP Act governs complaints about conduct and practice issues of the AFP.
Conduct issues are those that contravene AFP Professional Standards or amount to corrupt conduct, irrespective of when the conduct occurred, or whether it occurred on duty or in a private capacity (s 40RH AFP Act).
Practice issues include practices or procedures of the AFP that are contrary to law, unreasonable, unjust, oppressive or improperly discriminatory, inadequate, or otherwise wrong or inappropriate, whether within or outside Australia (s 40RI AFP Act).
The AFP Commissioner is obliged to report to a complainant the progress of an investigation and action taken as far as is reasonable (s 40TA AFP Act).
Custodial staff members are obliged to provide people in custody with the physical and confidential means to make a complaint to the AFP Commissioner and Commonwealth Ombudsman on request.
The AFP Commissioner has discretion to cease an investigation if it is considered trivial, frivolous or vexatious (s 40TF(2) AFP Act).
When, following investigation of a complaint, it is decided by the AFP Commissioner to take action against a federal police officer, the AFP Commissioner may order or recommend (s 40TR AFP Act):
- training and development action (e.g. coaching, mentoring, training or increased supervision) to improve the appointee’s performance
- remedial action (e.g. structured changes to employment, reprimand or counselling) to improve unsatisfactory performance
- termination of employment
- any other action that the commissioner can take in relation to a AFP appointee.
Complaints to the Commonwealth Ombudsman
If a complainant is dissatisfied with an investigation by the AFP Professional Standards, the Commonwealth Ombudsman can investigate complaints about the conduct or actions of AFP officers and about the policies, practices and procedures of the AFP as an agency. The Commonwealth Ombudsman has discretion not to proceed with the investigation of matters that are trivial, vexatious and frivolous or matters that have already been dealt with by a court (unless the circumstances are exceptional).
A complaint to the Commonwealth Ombudsman can be made in any form.
Complaints to the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity
The role of the ACLEI is to investigate and prevent corruption for the following Commonwealth agencies:
- Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission
- Australian Federal Police
- Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre
- Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (as prescribed)
- Department of Immigration and Border Protection (including Australian Border Force)
- any Australian government agency prescribed by regulation under the LEIC Act.
The ACLEI must be referred a corruption issue (defined by s 7 of the LEIC Act) that comes to the attention of the AFP Commissioner, and any person or agency can complain to the ACLEI or refer allegations and information about corruption (ss 18–24 LEIC Act). A complaint can be anonymous. The commission can conduct an investigation or refer the matter to the AFP for investigation and monitor its progress. The Integrity Commissioner (head of the ACLEI) can decide not to carry out an investigation and can refer the complaint to another agency for action (s 26 LEIC Act).
Complaints can be made orally, but the commission can require that a complaint be made in writing or online.
On completion of an investigation, the ACLEI must report to the responsible minister of an agency or person who made the complaint. The Integrity Commissioner can recommend that an officer be counselled, disciplined or dismissed, or refer to a prosecuting authority if criminality is alleged. The Integrity Commissioner can also recommend changes to police practices and procedures and make public statements and report to the parliament (s 67 LEIC Act).
The Integrity Commissioner has power to conduct hearings in public or private, to summons any person to attend hearings or produce documents or things (ss 82–83 LEIC Act). The commission has extensive coercive powers. Persons under investigation must be afforded procedural fairness before the publication of adverse findings.