A week since Paul Mason’s report into Tasmania’s child services after a 12-year-old girl was sold for sex. Now he won’t be re-appointed as Children’s Commissioner. The Opposition says it smacks of bias but the Premier says the panel was independent.
MARK COLVIN: The Tasmanian children’s commissioner has been told he no longer has a job, a week after he criticised the Government for failing to protect children.
Paul Mason’s report helped fuel anger at the Government over the case of a 12-year-old girl who was prostituted while a ward of state.
He has now missed out on a second term as children’s commissioner.
The bureaucrat who’ll replace him, Aileen Ashford, has been overseeing child protection reforms in the same department that Paul Mason recently attacked for failing to protect children in a scathing report.
Felicity Ogilvie reports from Hobart.
FELICITY OGILVIE: The children’s commissioner’s three-year term is up at the end of the month - and today Paul Mason found out he no longer has the job.
PAUL MASON: Personally I’m disappointed.
FELICITY OGILVIE: Is this in any way payback for your highly critical report into the 12-year-old girl who was sold for sex while in state care?
PAUL MASON: I’ll let the public and the media decide that.
FELICITY OGILVIE: You’ve recently called for more powers; what’s your hope for the next children’s commissioner?
PAUL MASON: Well, the next children commissioner’s term will expire before the next election and there’s always a pressure on a public officer who is subject to reappointment by the same government to tone things down a bit, to conform to the expectations of the elected government.
One recommendation I would make very strongly to the Tasmanian Parliament is that they extend the term of the next children’s commissioner after next, to five years, to fall in line with every other jurisdiction in Australia.
FELICITY OGILVIE: The new children’s commissioner, Aileen Ashford is a state government employee who’s been heading reforms into child protection.
Ms Ashford works for the same department Mr Mason says failed to protect the 12-year-old girl who was sold for sex while she was a ward of the state.
The incoming commissioner says she will be independent.
AILEEN ASHFORD: I’m very clear that political parties won’t have any influence on the role. The only people who’ll have influence on the role are children and young people and their voices.
FELICITY OGILVIE: Paul Mason has been calling for more power, but Aileen Ashford says the commissioner already has enough power.
AILEEN ASHFORD: It’s not an investigating role that the commissioner has; the investigative role is given to the commissioner by the Minister, which has obviously happened in the case that’s before us today and over the past couple of weeks.
FELICITY OGILVIE: The Opposition’s spokeswoman, Vanessa Goodwin, says Ms Ashford won’t be independent.
VANESSA GOODWIN: I think it’s very difficult to put her in the position where effectively she’ll be critiquing her own reforms when it comes to the child protection system.
FELICITY OGILVIE: Five people sat on a panel that selected Ms Ashford. They included senior people from three government departments that the outgoing commissioner, Paul Mason, identified as failing to protect a 12-year-old girl in a recent report.
VANESSA GOODWIN: The timing of this is extraordinary. We have had the children’s commissioner Paul Mason, who has handed down a report into the case of the 12-year-old girl with very serious recommendations to government about ways to improve the child protection system; highlighting the systemic failures of that system and the failures across government agencies and now we see a very short time later he was not reappointed to this position; effectively sacked, you could say.
FELICITY OGILVIE: The Premier David Bartlett says the panel was independent.
Premier is this retribution against Paul Mason’s outspoken report against these three agencies that were on the selection panel?
DAVID BARTLETT: Well to be honest with you I’m a little bit surprised by your question given the detailed explanation of the process that has been held leading up to Aileen’s appointment. I think your question though, if you really want to ask it, what is it saying? It is questioning the integrity of the people on this panel.
FELICITY OGILVIE: Mr Bartlett’s office has since released a timeline saying the selection panel chose Ms Ashford two weeks before Paul Mason’s scathing report was released to the public.
Mr Mason gave his report to the Government in July.
One of the members of the selection panel was the former New South Wales children’s commissioner Gillian Calvert.
She says she had no knowledge of Mr Mason’s report.
GILLIAN CALVERT: I can only talk from my perspective but certainly from my perspective I followed the processes that are required for the appointment of anybody under the public sector and that is to be fair and impartial and to appoint the most meritorious applicant.
FELICITY OGILVIE: PM has been told that the successful applicant Aileen Ashford is good friends with one of the other panel members, her colleague at the Health and Human Services Department Alison Jacob.
The Health Department says the allegation is untrue and that the women only have a professional working relationship; they’re not close personal friends.
MARK COLVIN: Felicity Ogilvie.