Friday, October 14, 2011

Asher's foolishness

So Allan Asher has been caught out providing Greens Senators with questions to ask him at estimates. The action has been called unwise and grubby.

It has been met with calls for explanation or resignation.

I agree with all those comments. Asher himself said;

I chose this unorthodox approach to bring my concerns to the attention of the Parliament and the public. I would welcome a discussion regarding the establishment of a parliamentary committee or some other accountability mechanism to specifically review my work and with whom I could raise issues of concern without compromise to the independence of my office.

Therein lies the particular issue. We have a number of statutory offices that are not subject to Ministerial direction like a Department. The ACCC, ACMA and ASIC are such bodies. Minister's can't really be "held to account" for administration in some ways by pleading the agency's independence.

Asher is not the first head of an agency to find budgets an issue. The ACMA utilised a number of channels to make submissions about the impact of Tanner's "efficiency dividend" on small agencies. There are routes other than feeding questions to Senators.

However, there does appear to be merit in creating more direct parliamentary oversight of agencies that are created to be independent of the Executive.

That said, it is hard to understand why Asher was not simply patient enough to include the issues in his annual report.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

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