Commissioner of Complaints

The Commissioner of Complaints (the Commissioner) is a position established under Part 8 of the National Health and Medical Research Council Act 1992 (the Act).

The functions of the Commissioner are to investigate complaints concerning action taken by the Chief Executive Officer of the NHMRC (CEO) or the NHMRC Research Committee in relation to an application for funding made on or after 24 June 1993.

The current Commissioner is Professor Donald Chalmers who has been appointed from 1 September 2013 to 31 December 2016.  Professor Chalmers is a Professor at the University of Tasmania and Director of the Centre for Law and Genetics. He is a Foundation Fellow of the Australian Academy of Law.

He was Chair of the Australian Red Cross Ethics Committee from 2000 until 2010. He is Chair of the Gene Technology Ethics and Community Consultative Committee, and was Deputy Chair of the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Embryo Research Licensing Committee. He is a member of the International Human Genome Organisation Ethics Committee and of the International Cancer Genome Consortium. He has been a member of the International Scientific Review Panels of Genome Canada since 2004.

He was Chair of the NHMRC Australian Health Ethics Committee from 1994 to 2000, a member of the NHMRC Human Genetics Advisory Committee 2006-09, a member of the Board of the Australian Institute of Family Studies, 1998-2006; member of the Commonwealth Biotechnology Advisory Council, 1999-2002; Law Reform Commissioner for Tasmania, 1991-1997; consultant to the Australian Law Reform Commission Report on the genetic privacy, 2001-2003.

Making a complaint to the Commissioner

Before complaints are investigated by the Commissioner, they will first be considered by the CEO and her staff. Complaints regarding a decision made in relation to funding should therefore be addressed in the first instance to:

The Chief Executive Officer
National Health and Medical Research Council
GPO Box 1421

Or sent electronically to

Following consideration of the complaint by the NHMRC, complainants will receive a response. If they are not satisfied with the response, they have the right to resubmit the complaint for assessment by the Commissioner. Individuals wishing to make a complaint to the Commissioner should lodge the complaint to the following address:

NHMRC Commissioner of Complaints
GPO Box 1421

In order to make a complaint, the complaint must be in writing, be signed by the complainant, and describe the action complained about and the grounds for the complaint (see below).

Grounds for Complaints

Section 58 of the Act lists the grounds for making a complaint to the Commissioner. These are:

  1. that the action involved a breach of the rules of natural justice;
  2. that the action was induced or affected by fraud;
  3. that there was no evidence or other material to justify the action;
  4. that an irrelevant consideration was taken into account in relation to the action;
  5. that a relevant consideration was not taken into account in relation to the action;
  6. that in the course of the action a discretionary power was exercised for a purpose other than the purpose for which the power is conferred;
  7. that the action involved the exercise of a discretionary power in bad faith;
  8. that, in the course of the action, a personal discretionary power was exercised at the direction of another person;
  9. that the action involved the exercise of a discretionary power in accordance with a rule or policy without regard to the merits of the particular case;
  10. that the action involved any other exercise of a power in a way that constitutes abuse of the power.

How is the complaint handled by the Commissioner?

Once the complaint is sent to the Commissioner, the Commissioner will gather all the necessary information to enable him to make a decision. The Commissioner must conduct the investigation in private and in a manner that he thinks fit.

Outcomes of complaints to the Commissioner

There are four possible outcomes once a complaint is sent to the Commissioner:

  1. The Commissioner may decide not to investigate the complaint- This may occur if:
    1. more than 12 months has elapsed between the time that the complainant became aware of the complaint and the time when the complaint was made;
    2. the Commissioner believes that further investigation is not justified; or
    3. the complainant has not firstly had the complaint considered by the CEO.
  2. The complaint is transferred to the Privacy Commissioner
  3. The Complaint is upheld
  4. The complaint is unsuccessful

If the complaint is upheld, the Commissioner will provide a recommendation to the CEO and to the NHMRC.

Further information

If you require any further information on the complaint process please refer to the NHMRC Complaint Form and Policy or contact the NHMRC  on 02 6217 9333 or 1800 646726.