History of the office

As part of a growing movement throughout the world in the 1970s, the South Australian Government decided to establish an Office of Ombudsman and introduced legislation into the South Australian Parliament. The office was the second established in Australia.

After consideration and amendment, the Ombudsman Act was passed on 23 November 1972 and proclaimed on 14 December 1972, and the Office of the Ombudsman was opened to receive complaints. The Office was initially established in Parliament House but moved in 1973 to the tenth floor of 50 Grenfell Street where it remained until relocated within the building to the fifth floor in June 1997.  The Office relocated to Level 9, 55 Currie Street on 6 March 2015.  The Office has subsequently relocated to Level 5, 91 King William Street on 5 March 2019.

The first Ombudsman was Mr Gordon Combe, a former officer of the Parliament. Mr Combe remained Ombudsman until his retirement in January 1980. The table below shows the Ombudsmen and Acting Ombudsmen from this period until today.

Ombudsman Name Duration
First Mr Gordon Coombe 1972 – January 1980
Acting Mr LWA Myers January – June 1980
Second Mr Robert Bakewell 1 July 1980 – 31 March 1985
Third Ms Mary Beasley 1 April 1985 – October 1985
Acting Mr Eugene Biganovsky 24 October 1985 – February 1986
Fourth Mr Eugene Biganovsky February 1986 – 22 June 2007
Acting Ms Suzanne Carman 23 June 2007 – 12 September 2007
Acting Mr Ken MacPherson 13 September 2007 – 31 May 2009
Fifth Mr Richard Bingham 1 June 2009 – 30 June 2014
Acting Ms Megan Philpot 1 July 2014 – 17 December 2014
Sixth Mr Wayne Lines 18 December 2014 – Present

The Ombudsman Act did not initially provide the Ombudsman with jurisdiction in respect of local government councils but these were brought within jurisdiction in 1975.

Whilst the Ombudsman commenced with only one Act of Parliament providing guidance, the addition of several other areas of jurisdiction to the Ombudsman’s work now sees four separate Acts giving the Ombudsman particular roles.

The Ombudsman Act remains the principal legislation, but in 1992 the proclamation of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act and the Local Government (Freedom of Information) Amendment Act gave the Ombudsman the role of external reviewer of decisions regarding access to information.  The local government FOI provisions have now been incorporated directly into the FOI Act and removed from the Local Government Act.

The Whistleblowers Protection Act 1993 gave the Ombudsman the role of receiving ‘public interest information’ as described under that Act.

In investigations, the Ombudsman is able to exercise powers of a Royal Commission under the Royal Commissions Act 1917.

Between 2003 and 2010, there were amendments to the Local Government Act which gave the Ombudsman a role in investigating or reviewing conflicts of interest in local government, council decisions and practices excluding members of the public from council meetings, or preventing access to council meeting documents, and council decisions and practices in relation to rating.

In 2013 the South Australian Cabinet directed that the scope of the Information Sharing Guidelines should be broadened to include information sharing for all vulnerable population groups, including all adults, irrespective of their status as parents or caregivers, where there are threats to safety and wellbeing. It was also decided to relocate responsibility for the ISG to Ombudsman SA. From 1 July 2018 this function was relocated to the Department of the Premier and Cabinet.

From 1 September 2013, the Ombudsman can investigate misconduct and maladministration in public administration on referral by the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption.

On 1 July 2015, the WorkCover Ombudsman ceased to exist and the SA Ombudsman assumed powers to oversee the management of workers compensation claims under the Return to Work Act 2014.

In the first full year of the Ombudsman’s operation, the Office received 726 complaints against bodies within the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction.  In 2017/18 the Ombudsman’s Office received 4,270 Ombudsman Act complaints, 191 Return to Work Act complaints and 160 reviews under the Freedom of Information legislation.