Complaints against police

The Australian Law Reform Commission received its first reference in May 1975 and issued a working paper before concluding its final report Complaints Against Policy (ALRC Report 1), tabled in federal Parliament on 7 August 1975.

The proposals in ALRC Report 1 were substantially accepted by the then federal Government and included in the Australia Police Bill 1975. The Bill lapsed with the dissolution of Parliament in November 1975. Government policy changed and the proposal to establish an amalgamated national force of all of the Commonwealth’s police was not proceeded with.

In 1977, the Attorney-General asked the ALRC to review its earlier report in light of these changed circumstances. The new terms of reference were received in January 1977 and the final report, Complaints Against Police (ALRC Report 9) was tabled in June 1978. ALRC Report 1 and ALRC Report 9 were reprinted as one volume.

Key recommendations

ALRC Report 1

  • A special unit of the police force, titled the Internal Discipline Section, should be established.
  • A Police Tribunal should be established.
  • The Australian Ombudsman should be empowered to oversee investigation of police complaints.

ALRC Report 9

  • The supplementary report reinforced the recommendations of the first report with some modifications.
  • A modern police discipline code should be implemented.
  • Commonwealth police should wear identification numbers.
  • Complaints procedures should be adapted for Customs, Narcotic Bureau and other Commonwealth officers.


ALRC Report 1

The ALRC’s recommendations were taken up in the Australia Police Bill 1975 (Cth), which was before the Parliament when it was dissolved in 1975. The Bill lapsed and no further action was taken until after the completion of the supplementary report (ALRC Report 9).

ALRC Report 9

In advance of legislation, the ACT police set up an Internal Affairs Branch in January 1978. The Northern Territory legislated to allow the NT Ombudsman to receive certain public complaints against police.

In 1979, the Australian Federal Police Act 1979 (Cth) was enacted bringing about the amalgamation of the Commonwealth and ACT forces into the Australian Federal Police. The Complaints (Australian Federal Police) Act 1981 (Cth) came into force on 1 May 1982. The legislation substantially introduced the scheme proposed by the Commission in that it established an Internal Investigation Division of Police and a Police Disciplinary Tribunal and provided for the Commonwealth Ombudsman to be a neutral recipient and in some situations investigator of police complaints. In 1994 the Complaints (Australian Federal Police) Amendment Act 1994 (Cth) amended the complaints legislation to provide for all staff of the AFP to be covered by the legislation. It also created an offence of making a false complaint or providing false information and provided for the Ombudsman to investigate matters on his or her own motion, thus bringing the function closer to that set out in the Commission’s reports.

Continuing issues

In March 1995, the Attorney-General referred the Complaints (Australian Federal Police) Act 1981 (Cth) to the Commission for review. This review was finalised with the tabling of ALRC Report 82 Integrity: But Not By Trust Alone.

The online summary of ALRC Report 82 Integrity, But Not By Trust Alone provides further information about continuing issues in this area.