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Integrity Commissioner quits, but Premier says it’s ‘not a problem’

Queensland’s Integrity Commissioner has quit following concerns about interference with her office, but the premier says the resignation is “not a problem at all”.

Jan 24, 2022, updated Jan 24, 2022
Former Integrity Commissioner Nikola Stepanov is heading to Toowoomba. Picture: AAP

Former Integrity Commissioner Nikola Stepanov is heading to Toowoomba. Picture: AAP

Dr Nikola Stepanov, who maintains the state’s register of lobbyists and confidentially advises politicians on integrity matters, reportedly raised concerns about the Public Service Commission last year.

The PSC confiscated Integrity Commission staff mobile phones and laptops, deleted records from those devices, and altered security permissions and access to the commission’s offices, News Corp reported in September 2021.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk at the time dismissed some parts of that report as “speculation”, but told parliament it had been referred to the Crime and Corruption Commission.

She then refused to comment further as the matter was yet to be finalised by the watchdog.

Palaszczuk on Monday said she believed Stepanov was stepping down to take another position and would stay in her role until July.

“People change jobs all the time … I don’t think it’s a problem at all, we’ll advertise and have a new integrity commissioner,” she said.

Palaszczuk said the office of the commissioner is “staffed appropriately” and it is her understanding extra staff had been provided.

Stepanov revealed the number of Integrity Commission staff had been cut from four to one in her 2020-21 annual report, released in October.

She was “very concerned” about illegal lobbying after a surge in recorded contacts between the state Labor government and lobbyists.

Opposition integrity spokeswoman Fiona Simpson said the integrity commissioner had held the government to account on “some really serious issues”.

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“Integrity matters, and it matters when a government … undermines the very statutory independent roles that are there to keep them honest,” she said on Monday.

The commission also said complaints about lobbying and requests for advice about lobbying were on the rise in Queensland.

There were 38 requests for advice and 988 contacts recorded between lobbyists and government ministers, MPs, public servants, councillors or local government staff in 2020/21, she wrote.

That compares with an average of 239 contacts a year between January 2013 and June 2020.

Stepanov said there were 46 discrepancies in the records held by chief executives of state government departments and lobbyists.

There were another 57 discrepancies between the records held by chief executives of local governments and the lobbyists’ register.

Almost all related to lobbyists failing to record contacts with people on the government register, Dr Stepanov said.

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