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Complaints against government

The area of law dealing with complaints against government decisions is called administrative law. The purpose of administrative law is twofold:

  • To enforce limits to government power
  • To enable individuals to call government bodies and agencies to account in their decision making

Given the complexity of our system of government, many government decisions are delegated to government departments and agencies. Unlike Parliament, they are not directly accountable to the people. Administrative law is therefore necessary to ensure accountability of the administrative actions and decisions of government and its departments.

Before 1975, a person wishing to dispute a government decision had to rely on common law remedies (such as certiorari, prohibition and mandamus) and equitable remedies (e.g. injunction and declaration) which were only available through the courts.

Since 1975 a number of alternative remedies have been introduced at the Commonwealth level to improve access to review of Commonwealth government decisions by individuals.

Not all government dealings can be challenged under administrative law. For example, policy decisions, such as a decision to raise taxes or conscript troops for war, are excluded from administrative review. Governments are accountable for these sorts of decisions only at election time. However, the systems set up to administer these polices (for example, a taxation assessment system or a call up system) are subject to the rights of individuals to seek administrative appeal or judicial review. In other words, a person does not have the right to contest the policy as a whole but to contest the implementation of the policy as it applies to them as an individual.

Generally there are both legal and non-legal means of dealing with complaints against government departments.

The non-legal option is to request an investigation of your complaint by the relevant Ombudsman. The Commonwealth Ombudsman has jurisdiction to deal with complaints concerning Commonwealth government departments. Complaints about South Australian government agencies are dealt with by the South Australian Ombudsman (see The South Australian Ombudsman).

Having a decision reviewed legally involves taking the matter to a relevant Tribunal and/or Court. The process for Commonwealth matters and State matters is significantly different and will be discussed in further detail in the following sections.

Complaints against government  :  Last Revised: Mon May 7th 2012
The content of the Law Handbook is made available as a public service for information purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for legal advice. See Disclaimer for details. For free and confidential legal advice in South Australia call 1300 366 424.