Qld watchdog backs Commission of Inquiry

Marty Silk |

Queensland lobbying watchdog has called for a formal Commission of Inquiry into state government and public service integrity.

Professor Peter Coaldrake is already leading a review, ordered by Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk on Friday, into government accountability.

However, he revealed on Monday he will only probe the broader system and not individual complaints.

Integrity Commissioner Nikola Stepanov says there must be a broader probe with legal powers and protections of a royal commission.

“It is in the public interest that a Commission of Inquiry be established to examine the multitude of integrity related issues that have been canvassed in the public space in recent weeks,” she told AAP in a statement on Monday.

Dr Stepanov has complained about interference in her role as the state’s lobbyist watchdog, including that her staff and funding were cut.

The Crime and Crime Corruption Commission is also probing an allegation that a laptop was taken from her office and wiped without her knowledge or permission last year.

After Dr Stepanov complained about the computer, the premier tried to have old bullying and credit card misconduct claims against her probed by a parliamentary committee

Dr Stepanov said a Commission of Inquiry should investigate all integrity probe complaints by independent statutory bodies, watchdogs and individuals.

“Noting that the fear of legal action and other repercussions are commonly held concerns of whistleblowers, in my view only a full Commission of Inquiry would be able to afford potential witnesses the necessary legal protections required to overcome these concerns,” Dr Stepanov said.

Earlier on Monday, Prof Coaldrake said his review would focus on the wider system because there was already “a barrage” of mechanisms to deal with complaints.

“It is not for me to investigate individual complaints,” he told ABC Radio on Monday.

“But it is certainly for me to understand the problems that have been ventilated, that are being aired in the public arena.”

Former state archivist Mike Summerell, who’s also complained of interference in his record-keeping role, said individual complaints must be heard.

He said it was particularly frustrating as one of his main problem was the poor treatment of public service whistleblowers.

“I would compare the (government’s) response as to having someone punch you in the face and then say, ‘I am not sorry that I punched in the face … but I am sorry you didn’t enjoy the experience. Please let me know if you would like me to punch you in the face again’,” Mr Summerell wrote on LinkedIn on Monday.

Meanwhile, deputy chair Ray Stevens said he would move a motion for the Economics and Governance committee to publish all its correspondence about Dr Stepanov.

The outcome of that motion hasn’t been revealed, but the Liberal National Party MP told AAP he was “hopefully optimistic” about it.

Dr Stepanov said she was comfortable with the correspondence being publicly released.

“I have no objection to the release of any materials held by the Parliamentary Economics and Governance Committee which relate to the performance of my role,” she told AAP in a statement.

There are also two other probes, and three separate reviews, under way involving integrity in the government, the public service and the state’s four integrity watchdogs.