Michael joined FOS as an Ombudsman in Insurance, Life Insurance and Superannuation (ILIS) in July 2008, following the merger of the three earlier external dispute resolution services (Banking and Financial Services Ombudsman Limited, Financial Industry Complaints Service Limited (FICS) and Insurance Ombudsman Service Limited) having previously worked as National Panel Chair at FICS.
“I’ve been a lawyer for almost 50 years now. In 1961 law was the easy option. The only other real options were medicine or engineering. I didn’t like the constraints of school much and law was the quickest route out!” Michael said.
A founding partner of the law firm Arnold Thomas & Becker, at the young age of 22 Michael set up practice above a fish and chip shop, opposite the Magistrates Court and down the road from the old police headquarters in Melbourne. Here he spent his early days lawyering mainly in crime, before focusing on the personal injury field.
Between 1982 and 1988, Michael served two terms in the Legislative Council of the Victorian Parliament, as the Labor member for Templestowe. His work here revolved around numerous committees, predominantly relating to the Attorney-General’s portfolio.
During the 80s and 90s a number of consultancies for the State Government ensued, covering a wide range of areas including intellectual disability Services, the fishing industry and the mining industry. Additionally Michael provided consultancy services on alcohol and related violence to the Federal Government during this time. He was also appointed a Deputy President and Judge of the Accident Compensation Tribunal of Victoria in the early 90s and has been a member of the Medical Practitioners Board of Victoria.
After all his years of working as an Ombudsman, Michael is now well-placed to mentor and support the newer Ombudsmen as they join FOS. He also enjoys working closely with case managers and collaborating on the wide variety of cases FOS sees in the ILIS space.
“Being an Ombudsman is extremely rewarding,” Michael says.
“In ILIS the cases we deal with could involve something like the loss of superannuation – we are often talking about an issue which could really impede a person’s future retirement position. FOS provides a meaningful option.
“If we can respond quickly to disputes it really does help take the pressure off people, and helps to ease the burden on our court system.
“I’ve noticed a real shift in perceptions around mediation and conciliation over the years. I think we are more conscious of the fact that the adversarial system isn’t working as it should, and the value of Ombudsman services in providing a free, easily accessible, quick and efficient service is being more widely recognised.”
There is a common thread running through all of Michael’s work to date – social conscience. He has given his spare time generously to a number of worthy causes, including serving as a Board member for both UNICEF and the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation, Director at the Playbox Theatre (which involved producing shows and designing a new theatre in the 70s) and State Chairman of the Freedom from Hunger Campaign and Community Aid Abroad.
Outside work, Michael enjoys golf, the theatre, and spending time with his two grandchildren. Travel is high on his agenda and he is looking forward to travelling Route 66 in the USA in a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air later this year.