THE former Commonwealth ombudsman Allan Asher has attacked the federal government for paying lip service to the watchdog and hobbling its ability to investigate the immigration system through a lack of funding.
In a speech to the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law, Mr Asher, pictured, described himself as a ”former immigration ombudsman who mistakenly believed that the government was genuine in its commitment to the compassionate and tolerant treatment of asylum seekers”.
He accused politicians of giving inadequate support to the ombudsman’s office.
”Most particularly, relevant ministers were, at times, resistant and resentful of the work undertaken by the ombudsman whenever criticisms were made of the administration of aspects of asylum policy,” he said.
He was particularly critical of a lack of funding for the office. ”Despite funding extra resources for almost every other aspect of management of asylum policies … no new resources could be found to support the impossible workload of the office for the ombudsman,” he said.
Mr Asher was forced to resign last year after he prepared questions for Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young to ask about his office in Senate budget estimates hearings.
He has recently appeared in the SBS television series Go Back to Where You Came From.
He said he believed the office of the ombudsman – which is supposed to conduct six-monthly reviews of asylum seeker cases – was hamstrung.
”The Immigration Ombudsman has the legal powers, experience and skills to play a significant role in maintenance and management of the human rights of asylum seekers,” he said. ”Nonetheless, without the active support of the executive or the Parliament, the role will continue to fall short of its potential.”
A spokesman for the Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, said the government was open and accountable.
Funding for the ombudsman’s office went from $12,495,000 in 2005-06 to $22,472,000 in 2010-11, the spokesman said. But the office was forced to cut 10 per cent of its staff this year owing to financial pressures.
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