Our Executive

The management of our office is overseen and driven by the Executive Leadership Group (ELG).

The ELG is made up of the Ombudsman, three Deputy Ombudsman and two Assistant Ombudsman. They usually meet weekly to update each other on their work and discuss any significant issues.

The ELG is a deliberative body that forms the principal council of advice for the Ombudsman on major matters of policy and office management. The ELG has a central role in managing change in the office, and effectively communicating change to staff.

The ELG is responsible for the maintenance of the office’s governance framework and driving continuous improvements to our processes and procedures. Specific functions of the ELG include:

  • advising the Ombudsman on the strategic direction and management of the office
  • informing the Ombudsman and other senior officers of the major investigations, projects, inquiries and issues in each Branch so that all members of the ELG are equipped with up to date knowledge of office wide business initiatives and risks
  • discussing major legal, tactical, budgetary, human resource and other management issues, particularly those having implications for more than one Branch, with a view to reaching a consensus position to guide corporate action
  • providing advice to the Ombudsman on all matters of office wide policy and resource allocation
  • referring, as appropriate, issues to other forums, such as the Division Manager’s meeting, for consideration, investigation and advice
  • monitoring and reviewing the work of committees and working parties, including the referral of particular issues to such bodies for review, investigation and report
  • monitoring the implementation of the annual strategic plan and supporting plans, discussing required corrective action where necessary
  • taking collective responsibility for and speaking with one voice on all major policy and management decisions reached by consensus within the ELG and sanctioned by the Ombudsman, and
  • encouraging collaboration, coordination, integration and innovation within the office.

Our executive team

Michael Barnes – Ombudsman

Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Laws & Master of Laws

Michael was appointed NSW Ombudsman in December 2017. He has been the NSW State Coroner as well as the inaugural Queensland State Coroner, and has presided over many high profile and contentious inquests – including the deaths arising from the sinking in the Torres Strait of the Department of Immigration vessel the Malu Sara, the deaths connected with the Pink Batts program, and the deaths resulting from the Lindt Café siege.

Michael specialised in criminal and administrative law and has undertaken research and teaching in criminal justice, health law, and the investigation of corruption and organised crime. He was an adjunct professor of the Faculty of Law at the Queensland University of Technology and of the Australian Institute of Suicide Research and Prevention at Griffith University.

Michael joined the office in a period of significant change. He has taken the opportunity to refresh the strategic direction and priorities of the office, including evaluating existing structures and processes to meet ongoing demands. His priority is to increase the number of formal investigations we do. He has tabled four reports to Parliament on public interest issues in his first seven months as Ombudsman.

Chris Wheeler PSM – Deputy Ombudsman (Public Administration)

Bachelor of Town and Regional Planning, Masters of Town and Country Planning & Bachelor of Laws (Hons)

Chris was appointed Deputy Ombudsman in 1994, bringing to the role his extensive experience in state and local government in both NSW and Victoria.

Chris has operational responsibility for the traditional Ombudsman role – dealing with complaints about the public sector and local government. He has worked with agencies to improve their processes, developing guidelines and other resources on good complaint handling and administrative practice. His priority is to provide practical advice and training.

Chris leads the Ombudsman’s involvement in the whole-of-government complaint handling improvement project (CHIP), the ‘Managing Unreasonable Complainant Conduct’ project, and the Ombudsman’s public interest disclosure (PID) function.

He has also been on the research team for two major internationally recognised research projects into the management of whistleblowing within organisations (known as WWTW 1 and WWTW 2).

Deputy Ombudsman & Community and Disability Services Commissioner

Position currently vacant.

Danny Lester – Deputy Ombudsman (Aboriginal Programs)

Bachelor Adult Education & Diploma Business

A proud Wonnarua man, Danny was appointed Deputy Ombudsman in 2014.

Danny has worked in frontline positions in Commonwealth and NSW agencies, moving to the non-government sector to work with the Aboriginal Employment Strategy (AES) – including being its CEO for eight years – and with the Australian Employment Covenant. He has served on boards and advisory committees, including being a member of the advisory council for the Centre for Social Impact.

Danny is passionate about improving educational outcomes, employment opportunities and economic sustainability for Aboriginal people. In 2011 he was a member of the Aboriginal Ministerial Taskforce, established to inform a new plan – OCHRE – to improve education and employment outcomes for Aboriginal people in NSW.

Danny has operational responsibility for the Ombudsman’s monitoring of OCHRE initiatives, including providing strategic and timely feedback to agencies to enable them to address any shortcomings or gaps that may limit the capacity of OCHRE to meet its objectives.

Danny was voted by an independent panel as a True Leader with vision for the BOSS magazine list of 2012.

Julianna Demetrius – Assistant Ombudsman (Strategic Projects)

Diploma of Law

Appointed as an Assistant Ombudsman in July 2015, Julianna has led the strategic projects division for over 10 years. She has extensive experience in complaint handling, investigations and delivering major systemic projects.

Julianna has led several major reviews, inquiries and investigations. Recently, these have included an examination of legal and policy gaps in supporting homeless children, and a comprehensive inquiry into the operation of the tri-agency JIRT program for responding to criminal child abuse and neglect. Between 2010 and 2012, Julianna led the Ombudsman’s audit of Aboriginal child sexual assault. She works with the Deputy Ombudsman (Aboriginal Programs) to oversight the implementation of designated Aboriginal programs, and is currently preparing our first major report into the implementation of OCHRE – four years on.

Julianna worked on the office’s response during the five years of the Royal Commission. She currently represents the Ombudsman in discussions about implementing the Royal Commission recommendations, including the impact on our reportable conduct scheme.

Anita Whittaker PSM – Assistant Ombudsman (Corporate)

Bachelor of Commerce

Appointed Assistant Ombudsman (Corporate) in July 2015, Anita has led the corporate division for 23 years. She has extensive experience in public administration and has worked in the public sector for nearly 40 years.

Anita leads and manages all aspects of the Ombudsman’s corporate functions including overseeing financial, human, physical and technological resources. She has responsibility for implementing government programs and legislative changes as well as delivering a responsive corporate service.

Anita has a key role in the governance of the office and has been continuously improving our governance systems – including compliance, risk management, internal audit, and policy development and review. She is the office’s chief audit executive and provides advice to our audit and risk committee (ARC) on all aspects of the Ombudsman’s operations.

Anita is a qualified leadership coach and a member of the Institute of Internal Auditors. She was awarded the Public Service Medal in 2000 in recognition of her outstanding service to the NSW public sector.

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