Qld premier defends donor leading probe

Marty Silk |

Queensland’s premier says a one-time Labor donor can independently probe government accountability amid concerns the inquiry won’t hear individual complaints.

Annastacia Palaszczuk has asked Professor Peter Coaldrake to lead the inquiry after a number of integrity watchdogs and former public servants complained of interference in their roles.

“We need to do this review … for good government,” the premier told reporters on Friday.

Prof Coaldrake, a former Queensland University of Technology vice-chancellor, overhauled the public service between 1990 and 1994 for the then Goss Labor government.

But there are concerns about a conflict of interest after Prof Coaldrake made a donation to the Labor party in 2018.

He paid $1760 for a table for the Queensland Performing Arts Centre board at a Queensland Labor post-budget lunch.

Ms Palaszczuk said she wasn’t aware of Prof Coaldrake’s donation, but defended his record, saying he’d chaired the former Liberal National Party government’s integrity forum.

“The public should absolutely have confidence … and I don’t think anyone is going to question his his reputation,” Ms Palaszczuk added.

LNP leader David Crisafulli said Prof Coaldrake should be disqualified due to the donation.

“It’s an acceptable reason for the person not to be appropriate to review the conduct of the government,” he told reporters.

Prof Coaldrake will probe public service culture, decision-making and impartial advice to the government.

He’ll also examine the interactions of integrity bodies, public servants and the government.

The inquiry will check integrity laws, systems designed to prevent ethical issues arising, if staff are adequately trained and complaint resolution.

The premier said it will be up to Prof Coaldrake if hearings will be public and he won’t be probing any individual complaints.

One of those is from outgoing Integrity Commissioner Nikola Stepanov, who says there’s been interference in her role.

The Crime and Corruption Commission is probing how a laptop was taken from her office and wiped without her permission.

Dr Stepanov, who’s resigning in July, also says her funding and staff were cut last year, which the premier denies.

Ms Palaszczuk tried to have the commissioner probed by a parliamentary committee for alleged misconduct, not long after she complained about the laptop.

Dr Stepanov said it was important that individual complaints were heard by the Coaldrake inquiry.

“And that they be able to so without fear of any repercussions,” she told AAP in the statement.

“I hope that the terms of reference will afford Professor Coaldrake the widest possible scope to conduct his review, in the public interest.”

A Queen’s Counsel is also probing misconduct claims made by the former state archivist Mike Summerell.

He’s alleged interference in his role and his reports, potentially leading to parliament being misled.

Mr Summerell said the Coaldrake inquiry should listen to public servants’ complaints.

“Seems obvious but the review needs to talk to ex public servants, those forced out by this culture. Talking to them is an obvious requirement to get the truth,” he said.

Meanwhile, another three reviews are looking at whether the CCC, the Integrity Commissioner and the Office of the Independent Assessor, the local government watchdog, are fit for purpose.

The premier will receive Prof Coaldrake’s interim report by mid-April with the final report due in mid-June.