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Oct 21, 2011

Ombudsman quits after colluding with Greens.

Former Queensland Minister for Everything, the late Russell Hinze famously stated, "Never hold an inquiry unless you know what the outcome will be." This seems to have been taken to heart by Commonwealth Ombudsman Allan Asher during a Senate estimates hearing on financing his office. Realizing that the right outcomes require the right questions, he wrote those questions and provided them to Greens Senator, Sarah Hanson-Young.

Apart from the obvious dishonesty of manipulating the hearing to suit his own ends, he placed his office, which has to be politically neutral in debt to the most extreme party on the Australian scene. He has resigned as his position has become untenable:

Mr Asher was questioned by Senator Hanson-Young in a Senate budget estimates hearing on May 24. He told the committee his workload had increased in recent months because of the rise in asylum-seekers reaching Australia but that he had had no raise in his $22 million-a-year budget.

Documents released to the Senate last week revealed Mr Asher had scripted Senator Hanson-Young's questions. They show the pair met a week before the May estimates hearing at Mr Asher's request, and that his office forwarded to Senator Hanson-Young a document headed “possible questions” the day before the hearing.

The questions were written as though they were a script - in the exact words that they might be asked.
It is reasonable to assume that Asher’s action were probably more an error of judgment than anything more sinister, but the fact remains that in accepting favors from the Greens he is obligated to them and has compromised himself. Greens leader Bob Brown is predictably ‘outraged’ at the government and opposition, although this is most likely a ploy to deflect his party’s culpability in the matter:
Greens leader Bob Brown said Mr Asher had been “politically assassinated.” He maintained neither Mr Asher nor Senator Hanson-Young had done anything wrong. “The government went after this good man, egged on by the Liberals,” Senator Brown said.

“His crime was to supply non-political questions - rather than answers - to Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, as a means of getting information on the public record.” “This unfair, nasty outcome shows that an apology for a mistake, far from being encouraged as part of political life in Canberra, will seal your fate.
It would be interesting to speculate whether Brown would feel the same way had Mr. Asher provided the questions to a Liberal Senator instead of one of his.

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