Watchdog raises fears over public servants working from home

Independent watchdogs are set to audit and review decisions made during the pandemic. The anti-corruption chief also has concerns about people being allowed to work from home.

Jun 18, 2020, updated Jun 18, 2020
(Photo: ABC News/Rhiannon Shine)

(Photo: ABC News/Rhiannon Shine)

The Government’s economic response to COVID-19 is already being examined by a parliamentary committee but further scrutiny is likely given the extraordinary powers and fast-tracking used by the government in recent months.

Integrity Commissioner Dr Nicola Stepanov said several watchdogs, such as the and the Queensland Audit Office, had audit functions and powers.

“It is likely that those integrity agencies will conduct future audits into high-risk activities (such as procurement) undertaken during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Stepanov told InQueensland.

The QAO has remained active and sought to provide early advice to agencies to head off any issues, however its three-year work plan may need to be updated.

“We published our plan for 2020-2023 in December 2019 and are currently recalibrating it, given the direct and indirect impacts of COVID-19 on public sector entities and public sector services,” a spokeswoman said in a statement.

“We are reassessing our proposed audits to see if the topics remain relevant in light of the pandemic or whether we need to prioritise alternative topics.”

CCC chair Alan MacSporran did not respond to requests for comment but is due to appear before a routine parliamentary committee hearing on Friday.

MacSporran remarked to a separate committee of watchdogs that working from home was a challenge, and not only for the CCC.

“The larger question, not just for us but across the public and private sectors I suspect, is the capability of the workforce to work productively from home, I do not think enough attention has been given to this aspect,” MacSporran said.

“Everyone is different, some people are more self- sufficient and resilient than others and some are just not cut out to work on their own. I think the answer in part lies in managing the workforce so that people are routinely rotated back to the workplace, so they are able to maintain physical contact with their colleagues. This can be achieved in a customised manner to recognise the differences in capability and personal choices. Much more work needs to be done in that space I think.”

The Queensland Racing Integrity Commission is set to benefit from that shift.

“Like other workplaces the forced transition to staff working remotely has provided significant and unexpected benefits,” Commissioner Ross Barnett told the watchdog committee.

“Harnessing those advantages will enable us to close down our CBD office by the end of 2020 and consolidate all of our staff and operations in one location resulting in significant recurrent annual savings.”

A spokeswoman for Queensland Ombudsman Phil Clarke said “the role of the Office has not changed and that things are now generally returning to pre-COVID service levels, after a couple of months of reduced contact from the public”. During that time, the number of complaints and inquiries fell from record highs.

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