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Wednesday, 2 November 2011
Page: 12535

Mr ROBB (Goldstein) (17:02): I would like to both associate the coalition with and endorse the statement of the minister. It is vital that the integrity and independence of the Commonwealth Ombudsman is fully maintained in order for the Australian public to have confidence in this office.

Since the appointment of the first Commonwealth Ombudsman in 1977, the office has played a very important part in our democracy. The Ombudsman carries an enormous responsibility in providing checks and balances by handling complaints, conducting investigations and performing audits and specialist oversight tasks related to the functioning of government. The Commonwealth Ombudsman safeguards the community in its dealings with Australian government agencies. The Ombudsman is expected to act without fear or favour. To do this, the independence and impartiality, and perception thereof, of the office must be maintained. The findings and criticisms of the Ombudsman carry significant weight and, quite properly, there is an expectation that these are based purely on facts and the evidence at hand. There must be no hint of interference or compromise.

The recent resignation of the Ombudsman, Mr Allan Asher, was indeed unfortunate, but, under the circumstances, by resigning Mr Asher acted in the best interests of the office of which he served. For that he is to be commended. The coalition joins the government in offering its continuing support to the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman following what has been a tough time.

Regrettably, in a most irresponsible way, Greens Senator Hanson-Young did indeed play a major part in compromising Mr Asher and his office through her reprehensible complicity. Those actions were highlighted by the minister and in the documents just tabled. What hypocrisy; what double standards. The Greens always like to take the high moral ground, claiming to be the great defenders of independence, increased scrutiny and greater transparency. Yet, in this episode, the Greens senator acted in a very deliberate, calculated and improper fashion and, in the process, severely compromised the impartiality and the integrity of the office of the Ombudsman, precipitating the resignation of the Commonwealth Ombudsman. Then, when exposed, the senator and her Greens colleagues resorted to bluster and finger-pointing but at no stage accepted responsibility for their part in Mr Asher's demise.

We can now close this chapter and let the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman get on with the functions it typically performs so well. I join the minister in thanking Ms Alison Larkins for agreeing to act as Ombudsman during the recruitment process for a permanent appointment. This has been a difficult period for the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman and, once again, on behalf of the opposition I offer ongoing support to the office and confidence in it.