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Allan Asher hanging up the boots

By johnboy - 20 October 2011 27

The Sydney Morning Herald is reporting that the Commonwealth Ombudsman is in the process of resigning over his ill advised estimates collusion with Greens’ Senator Sarah Hanson-Young.

Emails released last week showed he had written questions for the Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young about the conditions inside immigration detention centres and the lack of funding that prevented his office from performing its immigration overwatch role.

Senator Hanson-Young then asked Mr Asher those scripted questions when he appeared before a Senate estimates committee in May.

The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, said this morning that Mr Asher was yet to explain his actions adequately.

It’s a great shame he appears to have over-reached himself this way having had some useful things to say about public administration.

UPDATE: And the resignation is official.

‘It is with sadness that I made the decision to tender my resignation,’ Mr Asher said, ‘but I have done so because I recognise that the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s enduring strength lies in community confidence in its integrity.

‘I have always acted in the interest of those I have served and to bring about meaningful, broad ranging and long-term reforms to public administration. However, I accept that my actions prior to the May 2011 Budget Estimates hearing caused many in the community and the Parliament to call into question the impartiality of my office.

‘I regret deeply that my office’s reputation may have been damaged by my actions and apologise sincerely to my staff and to our clients. However, I do hope that some good will come of this incident by way of public discussion and debate about future funding and an appropriate accountability mechanism for the Commonwealth Ombudsman,’ he said.

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27 Responses to
Allan Asher hanging up the boots
housebound 12:07 pm 21 Oct 11

VicePope said :

Housebound #12 – if they are Labor supporters, they are supporters who show their affection by shooting the ALP in the foot at a time when it’s already limping. So I’d disagree.
My dealings suggest the office is solidly apolitical, although those working there are probably people who are more likely to give a damn about the way government agencies treat people. Good administration has no politics; nor does bad administration.

I have to admit, the conspiracy theorist suggestion was mischievous more than anything. Not sure how this incident shoots the ALP in the foot though, as it removes one source of criticism for a while.

Holden Caulfield 10:57 am 21 Oct 11

2604 said :

Holden Caulfield said :

Haven’t been following this too closely but it seems to me that SH-Yis getting out of jail free here. Where’s the heat on her?

She’d probably deal with the scrutiny the way the Greens always deal with scrutiny – by blaming the “hate media” and the rest of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, calling her opponents “bigots”, and acting like left-wing ideals are a substitute for probity and/or competence.

Almost. Not sure if you saw Lateline last night, but her interview with Tony Jones did neither of them any favours.

Jones couldn’t even manage to dampen the lettuce leaf he was wielding and Hanson-Young pretty much had free reign to say what she wanted. As I said, it did neither any favours.

VicePope 10:08 am 21 Oct 11

Housebound #12 – if they are Labor supporters, they are supporters who show their affection by shooting the ALP in the foot at a time when it’s already limping. So I’d disagree.
My dealings suggest the office is solidly apolitical, although those working there are probably people who are more likely to give a damn about the way government agencies treat people. Good administration has no politics; nor does bad administration.

housebound 9:36 am 21 Oct 11

It seems that the whole thing has brought into question the political independence of the whole office, not just Asher himself. He presumably acted on advice of at least his senior staff (or in consultation with them), and one of them may have colluded with the ALP. Even though he gets the push, as the leader, we’re now talking about independence of the office and the position.

A conspiracy theorist might start to suspect a set-up. Is the Ombudsman’s office a hotbed of labor sympathisers?

Chop71 9:31 am 21 Oct 11

breda said :

Bit of an own goal for Hanson Young, but no surprises there. She is as dumb as a box of rocks.

Now, that’s not fair to the rocks!!!

VicePope 8:57 am 21 Oct 11

A point well made AG, about senators not getting it during Estimates. The focus on the peripheral and the trivial is a waste of time, even if it is amusing to watch.
But, on your first point, could Mr Asher simply have included in his annual report a factual statement about the effect of demands on his office, in the context of limited resources and an efficiency dividend that is commonly considered to operate unfairly on smaller agencies spending most of their funds on salary? A media release could have drawn attention to it and that would have provoked thoughtful questions at estimates, without any suggestion of underhand behaviour.

AG Canberra 7:21 am 21 Oct 11

The shameful part of this episode is that Mr Asher felt the only way he could get enough money for the proper operation of the Ombudsman’s office was to provide a couple of ‘Dorothy-Dixers’ to SHY. .

Many public servants have sat and watched Estimates and been frustrated to the point of tears when the Senators just don’t seem to get it….They always seem to ask the run of the mill questions and not the ones that actually get to the nub of the issue.

breda 12:35 am 21 Oct 11

Deref said:

This is a bloody disgrace. A politician who made such a minor indiscretion wouldn’t even get a slap on the wrist, but a dedicated and respected public servant is forced to resign. A particularly virulent pox on both their houses.

—————————————————————————————————
Wrong, wrong and wrong.

1. A politician and a statutory officer do not have the same constraints on their behaviour. What Hanson-Young did was stupid and unethical, but that is not a sacking offence for a politician.

2. It was not a ‘minor indiscretion’ for the Ombudsman to secretly cook up questions with a senator to run his own agendas before an Estimates Committee. Otherwise, why did he resign?

3. The Ombudsman is not a public servant, but a statutory officer. Since his first priority is to be seen to be independent and impartial and to have the highest integrity, his sin was particularly heinous.

2604 10:12 pm 20 Oct 11

Holden Caulfield said :

Haven’t been following this too closely but it seems to me that SH-Yis getting out of jail free here. Where’s the heat on her?

She’d probably deal with the scrutiny the way the Greens always deal with scrutiny – by blaming the “hate media” and the rest of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, calling her opponents “bigots”, and acting like left-wing ideals are a substitute for probity and/or competence.

Holden Caulfield 8:40 pm 20 Oct 11

Haven’t been following this too closely but it seems to me that SH-Yis getting out of jail free here. Where’s the heat on her?

Deref 7:42 pm 20 Oct 11

This is a bloody disgrace. A politician who made such a minor indiscretion wouldn’t even get a slap on the wrist, but a dedicated and respected public servant is forced to resign. A particularly virulent pox on both their houses.

VicePope 7:06 pm 20 Oct 11

Another fine question, Housebound. I’d suggest that no-one is asking the question because there is no way any source would be outed by the Senator, even if known. Leaking of any sort is a fundamental failure of loyalty, but may be understood in a case where the matter leaked goes to propriety in office, is unable to be resolved in another way and there is some rational basis for the choice of the recipient. My hope would be that the Ombudsman’s office spends less time on identifying the leaker than on addressing the management and governance issues that led to Mr Asher’s resignation.

housebound 5:41 pm 20 Oct 11

There is another question that no one seems to have noticed.

Asher was caught out when an ALP Senator asked him to table all correspondence with MPs (or political parties). Why did she make the request, and how did she know to do it? And why has no one in the media (or the Greens) asked for an explanation?

It is hard not to suspect someone in the Ombudsman’s office undermining their boss. Being smarter than the Greens, it won’t be in writing, not anywhere.

VicePope 2:38 pm 20 Oct 11

As one with a long-term admiration for the work of the Ombudsman’s office, this is a sad day. The comfort is that the action leading to the scandal was purely dumb, rather than corrupt in a classical sense.

My only questions are these The office is not a one-man show. Mr Asher had a deputy and several SES to advise him. Did they know? Did they encourage the foolishness or try to dissuade him from it? Did they simply do as the boss thought was good, even if they had reservations? In short, did they earn the considerable sums they receive, or just line up for them?

breda 2:08 pm 20 Oct 11

Bit of an own goal for Hanson Young, but no surprises there. She is as dumb as a box of rocks.

What is more interesting is that Labor hand-picked this guy only a year or so ago. The appointment would have gone to Cabinet. Another lapse of judgement. In what universe would you pick a consumer protection advocate with no experience in government to undertake a sensitive and complex job like being the Ombudsman? When clueless advocate meets clueless advocate, as happened in this case, all notions of independence and impartiality go out the window.

My spies tell me that the staff in his office are mightily relieved, and hope for a better choice next time.

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