Tasmanian Times

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche


Children’s Commissioner sacked after criticising Tas Govt

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.

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  1. Tim Ellis

    October 19, 2010 at 12:24 am

    Hey “Brian”, why no surname? Are you as famous as Bono? Or just an internet hero, bravely smearing people without putting your name to it?

    “Of course there is more to Tim Ellis and the power plays that fill the halls of lawyers ( sic) offices around this town”. Which “town” do you mean “Brian”? Most lawyers ‘ offices I know don’t have “halls”; they are lucky to have a reception area. Nor are they “filled with power plays”. Plays for what “Brian”? The photocopier?

    Why don’t you put in plain English what you are trying to say ,”Brian”? I have no idea what you are alleging about me , and it’s more than a little pathetic that you make your snide insinuations anonymously.

    Tim Ellis

  2. Brian

    October 17, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    James Crotty No. 8 wrote – So “Brian” you may be a real person with an expressed opinion nonconcomittant with your employment. But I doubt it. I doubt it because anyone with the interest to subscribe to these pages would be most unlikely to hold the shallow views you have expressed.

    Here we go again. If anybody dares to question or put an alternate argument forward they are howled down by those who appear incapable of anything more than following the crowd.

    I most certainly am a real person James and, let me assure you, my opinions are far more independent than yours. To make it clear, I am not a lawyer, nor a politician and am self employed. And I, like most people in our tiny town, have occasion to know and meet many of the people that make the news. And when I meet them I seek no favour nor fear no retribution. Probably you and I differ here.

    Of course there is more to Tim Ellis and the power plays that fill the halls of the lawyers offices around town. You make it clear which camp you are in. I have heard the arguments on both sides.

    As for Paul Mason, you state that “those public servants he has sought to expose as wanting have removed him”, an assertion you make with no evidence whatsoever and with no names at all. I make the assertion that there were concerns about how well he was fulfilling his position well before this case became an issue. I am certain I can provide much more evidence for my assertion than you yours.

    If you believe Tasmanian Times exists simply to allow you to howl down those who question your view of the world then you are mistaken. You are the one guilty of providing the spin and suppressing the truth.

    And shallow; really. I could make comments about your hair but that would be just as puerile.

    Even Paul Mason admitted that (he believed) he was not to be reappointed before he handed the ‘report’ over to the Government (which I understand to be the case). Surely that means the question really is whether he is the best person for the job? Yet you and others make it about something else entirely. There is no high ground in that James, just an inability to look at an issue without bias.

  3. Robin Halton

    October 17, 2010 at 12:44 am

    The series of events leading up to the sudden dismissal of Paul Mason has cast a dark shadow over the way that the small minded Tasmanian Government and its cronies regard the management for the protection of children.
    Mr Bartlett this time you have seriously undermined democracy as Mr Mason had no choice other than to expose the inadequatices of the system.
    It is now up to your government to seriously consider his findings and at the same time to justify Mr Mason from a function that he performed with both passion and professionalism. Mr Mason has not engaged in cronyism but instead has laid the hard cold facts on the table for all to see, what is wrong with that! The Tasmanian public are not fools, Mr Bartlett, so dont think that this is the end of Mr Masons journey for childrens inclusiveness to be recognised among everyday mainstream society.

  4. Bryan Walpole

    October 16, 2010 at 7:14 pm

    As usual, the search for the guilty ( three govt. departments) has led to the dismissal of the innocent ( Paul Mason) whilst the guilty take credit for a job well done.
    “Theres something rotten in the state of Denmark”
    Bryan Walpole.

  5. karen anderson

    October 15, 2010 at 7:59 pm

    What has been ignored or re-written out of history in this saga and the one about the played out in a Coronial Inquest next week is that the breakdown in the care system was a result of government penny pinching. It was Workers who led the push for reform through the unions when management and executives ignored those concerns for several months before the situation reached crisis point. This latest crisis has very senior staff rubbing their hands with glee about an expected injection of money and losing…

  6. William Boeder

    October 15, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    In situations of such as this whole sorrowful affair, (regarding this unfortunate neglected 12 year old girl,) I am of the firm belief that the immediate most important manner of investigating such an issue, as to begin “from the top,” then on down through the senior ranks of responsibility?

    Far too often the commencement of investigations are being directed to the coal-face employees, when in most instances they are generally acting under the direction of the elevated ranks of said institution or responsible entity?

    (The very same procedure can be the applied to each and every instance, relevant to all forms of necessary investigation within this State of Tasmania.)

    Thereby the upper echelons generally, whom often intently are seeking an easy avenue to lay such unwarranted blames as might be directed elsewhere, as opposed to that hierarchy which allowed or which created such an uncaring environment, and or toward the laxity of responsibilities as did occur in this particular instance?

    The same is applicable as to the resources made available, or those that were presumably allocated to deal with matters of such high moral care and responsibility?

  7. David Obendorf

    October 15, 2010 at 2:17 pm

    Mike Bolan’s comment is witheringly accurate. The selling of a Tasmanian child into prositution by a mother and a family friend for money has gone global. This is Taz-mania!

    Tasmania – the place that sells itself as “clean and green and clever”…and allows its children to be sold into prostitution.

    Paul Mason had to be crucified publicly because – as Henry Meville called it 150 years ago – this ‘tight little island’ cannot cope with exposure and disinfection. Such individuals are cut down one by one by brazen pretenders that have the power to control this island’s fate.

    My hope is that collectively we can leave arrogance and untruthfulness farther and farther behind.

  8. Mike Bolan

    October 15, 2010 at 2:36 am

    Forgetting the plight and infighting of various bureaucrats for a moment, what does this signal about Labor’s care for children?

    The state already removes children from their homes only to expose them to abuse of various types. The state has demonstrated that it is not a fit and proper parent.

    Now, after a particularly virulent incident involving a 12yr old girl, we see the government suddenly replacing the Commissioner for Children after a major expose of government negligence.

    So it’s only fair to ask, what commitment does Labor have to protect our young when they are exposed to harm?

    What signal is the Labor leadership giving with this action?

  9. James Crotty

    October 14, 2010 at 9:50 pm

    Brian at #4 who are you and what do you do because it strikes me your comments are wholly apologist for a error of judgment made by the current cabinet.

    First you infer there is “more” to Tim Ellis. The imputation is clear to me. I would ask you to put your money where your imputation is, save I would hate to see Tas Times in the same law suit.

    In regard to Ellis could I suggest you, and the wider community, speak with those who know of him and his works. He is a considerable public asset. Those who practise in the legal profession regard him and his judgment highly. There are many disagreements with decisions he makes, but none that I know of have ever suggested incompetence or partiality. I am amazed he was appointed. In doing so the government of the day actually got something right.

    I make no comment on Dr Scutt as that is a distraction from the issue of Mr Mason’s non re-appointment.

    In regard to Mr Mason the public should be aware there is systemic failure in our current protection of children. It is a huge and complex and expensive task to protect vulnerable children. Mason has done what he could, within the confines of the legislation which creates his position, to engage the public to seek a better political response. Put simply, those public servants he has sought to expose as wanting have removed him.

    Ask yourself what we as a community want from a Commissioner for Children. Someone who tells us of our failings, or someone who papers over the cracks.

    This is a sad day for accountability.

    This website exists in part to allow us some insight into what spin doctors don’t let us know.

    So “Brian” you may be a real person with an expressed opinion nonconcomittant with your employment. But I doubt it. I doubt it because anyone with the interest to subscribe to these pages would be most unlikely to hold the shallow views you have expressed.

  10. JoBlah

    October 14, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    Don’t you love all these “independent regulators” and “commissions of inquiry” and “expert panels” that the Government always gets to do its dirty work ?

    All uncomfortable questions, all unpopular decisions, and all complaints can then just be neatly passed on.

  11. BigEars

    October 14, 2010 at 4:55 pm

    Mason had to go — he was self-indulgent and totally ineffective in bringing about the systemic change that his position is tasked to pursue. His predecessor, David Fanning, set the standard as a competent, compassionate lawyer who also knew how to work constructively with overworked Child Protection Service workers and managers. All Fanning’s good work has been undone by Mason’s consistent self-aggrandisement.

    Appointing a non-lawyer is a positive step. Appointing someone with hands-on experience of childrens services is also positive. Appointing a Commissioner using a panel of the sort deployed this time is standard practice, though certainly not best practice. Appointing someone who DHHS wants to shift on because she has become so unpopular with work colleagues is very unfortunate indeed. Sadly, there will be some DHHS officers who are popping champagne corks, both because they have shed an ineffective manager and because that ineffectiveness will now shield them from independent scrutiny. A double win for them, a lost opportunity for Tasmania’s kids.

  12. Tom Nilsson

    October 14, 2010 at 4:11 pm

    Sir Humphrey Appleby would be proud!

  13. Brian

    October 14, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    I understand the concerns many may have with this but sometimes people need to see both sides. Just like with Tim Ellis, there may well be a lot more to these ‘brave’ individuals than what the public sees.

    Just because an individual is outspoken doesn’t mean they are correct or acting in societies best interests.

    You mention Jocelynne Scutt David (no 3): maybe you should also check the UN report that made some comments on her time in Fiji and the impact it had on the women there, by way of an example. Her ‘outspokeness’ didn’t appear to support them according to the UN.

    For every person being ‘brave’ in attacking their government employer, there is also a person trying to hang on to their public job and their public pay. Even Paul Mason mentioned this morning that (he believed) his job was not to be extended BEFORE he wrote his report. Maybe, ironically, this may have impacted on the reports findings?

    Sometimes, when you look hard, you find out that some of the scapegoats really are only goats.

  14. David Obendorf

    October 14, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    If Tasmanians believe the appointment of statutory officers such as the Childrens’ Commissioner are not politically staked then they must be as deluded as our Governor of Tasmania, Peter Underwood who believes there is no entrenched corruption (never has been!) in Tasmanian polity.

    When you have an appointment panel – 4 of 5 are Tasmanian SES public servants – that are Department seniors and one appointee (the Police Commissioner) who himself has only just got the his commission from the Government last Monday, I would seriously question the integrity of this appointment process.

    As Premier Bartlett himself conceded on ABC radio this morning, the announcement was unfortunate timing. He even disclosed the difficulty this matter caused his Labor-Green cabinet.

    Maybe Paul Mason might consider a referral to the Integrity Commission on the ‘due process’ of the Childrens’ Commissioner appointment.

    Whistleblowers are never treated well in Tasmania. Paul’s sacking just puts a shot across EVERY independent Statutory Officer in Tasmania about not testing their independence with the Tasmanian Government or its bureaucracy.

    I think Jocelyn Scutt – a former Anti-Discrimination Commissioner in Tasmania who was also outspoken – would concur.

  15. Mike Adams

    October 14, 2010 at 11:15 am

    ‘The first duty of the bureaucrat is to protect his superior’.

  16. phill Parsons

    October 14, 2010 at 8:54 am

    Y is it I find the Liberals story more believable than the Premier’s?.

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