Ombudsman resigns

Commonwealth Ombudsman Allan Asher today submitted his resignation to the Governor-General. His resignation will take effect at close of business on Friday, 28 October 2011, although he will be on leave from the office from Monday, 24 October.

‘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.

During his tenure, Mr Asher placed particular emphasis on the importance of government agencies becoming more socially inclusive and customer-focused, improving governance and integrity in the public sector, and using plain language to communicate with members of the public.

‘I have felt honoured to perform the often difficult but rewarding role of Ombudsman during the past 14 months, and I am proud of my office’s achievements,’ Mr Asher said.

‘We have identified issues in a wide range of operational and service delivery systems, and helped government agencies to establish and improve their own complaint-handling mechanisms. This has resulted in improvements to government administration and the services provided to Australians.’

Mr Asher said he was especially proud of his office’s investigations into systemic issues, citing as examples the school chaplaincy program, the use of interpreters for Indigenous Australians, tax file number compromises, how agencies engage with people suffering from a mental illness, and review rights for people under income management.

He also considered extremely valuable his role in:

  • oversighting law enforcement agencies in relation to the use of covert powers, including telecommunications interceptions, stored communications, surveillance devices and police controlled operations
  • oversighting immigration detention facilities and reviewing the circumstances of immigration detainees
  • contributing to the consideration of policy approaches through submissions to parliamentary and other inquiries, including access to 1800 and 1300 telephone numbers, and legislation such as new public interest disclosure laws.

Rather than discussing the broader issues of governance, finances and relations with the Executive at this time, Mr Asher said he would consider making further comment in due course.

The background to Mr Asher’s resignation is discussed in his 17 October 2011 statement to the Senate Committee on Finance and Public Administration, which is available at http://www.aph.gov.au/Senate/committee/fapa_ctte/estimates/sup_1112/tableddoc03.pdf.

Deputy Ombudsman Alison Larkins will act in the position of Commonwealth Ombudsman until further notice.

Media contact: Fiona Skivington 0423 845 160

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Date of release: 20 October 2011