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How to complain

As with a complaint to a business or other organisation, a person who is unhappy with a government decision should first try to telephone or write to the officer responsible for the decision. It may be possible to have a matter resolved satisfactorily without having to engage in formal correspondence with the Minister or the department.


Negotiation is useful to find why a decision has been taken and whether the decision may be reconsidered. However, time limits often apply to applications for review so any rights to appeal a decision should not be forgotten while a person negotiates. Negotiation alone is unlikely to change a decision. Once a decision is made it is generally only altered if it is shown that the decision maker did not have all of the facts.

Internal review

Many departments have an internal review system so that other officers within the department may reconsider decisions. A person dissatisfied with a decision is often required to use that internal review procedure before other avenues are available. If the decision was made under Commonwealth law, the empowering Act will generally provide the appropriate avenues of appeal.

Options for review

The different categories of review that are available in the State or Commonwealth areas are the Ombudsman, the administrative tribunals and judicial review.

Complaints can be made to the original decision-maker; the responsible Minister or the local member of Parliament.

In addition, complaints can be made to the Ombudsman who also has investigative powers.

There are also options for seeking a review of the decision through administrative tribunals or the courts.

Administrative tribunals (e.g. the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, the Social Security Appeals Tribunal and the Veteran’s Review Board) have the power to review decisions and generally have the same powers as the original decision maker to vary or make new decisions, see Legal System, Tribunals.

Often more than one avenue of review may be available. To determine what avenues are available it is important to look closely at the statute under which a decision has been made. The decision-maker should assist in providing information about review rights. In deciding what type of review to apply for, a number of factors need to be considered. These include the speed and cost of the review, the issues that can be considered by the review body and the powers of that body to remedy defects in the original decision.

How to complain  :  Last Revised: Fri Jul 8th 2011
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.