Whistleblower warns inquiry a “poisoned chalice” for Coaldrake

Integrity Commissioner Nikola Stepanov has called for a full commission of inquiry as former State Archivist Mike Summerell said he feared that Professor Peter Coaldrake “may well have been handed a poisoned chalice”.

Feb 21, 2022, updated Feb 21, 2022
Former State Archivist Mike Summerell (File photo)

Former State Archivist Mike Summerell (File photo)

Coaldrake was appointed to lead an investigation into government accountability and workplace culture, after claims made by Summerell and others relating to integrity.

Summerell said while he welcomed the inquiry and hoped it succeeded, Coaldrake needed to operate with complete independence and the identity of all those who speak to him must be protected.

“Many people will see speaking up as a huge risk and the absence of protections for those who speak up is an enormous flaw in this process at this point,” he said.

“Simply talking to the choir will not give you the reality of these issues.’’ 

But Coaldrake told ABC radio his inquiry was not a complaint driven inquiry, “so it is not for me to investigate individual complaints.” 

“But it is certainly for me to understand the problems that have been ventilated, that are being aired in the public arena, matters of concern to the community, the matters of concern to the government, the matters of concern to opposition, and of course, the matters of a concern inside the public sector itself.”

Integrity Commissioner Nicola Stepanov, who had previously welcomed the inquiry, today pointed to Coaldrake’s comments on the limited scope of the inquiry as well as its lack of legal powers and protections and urged people with information to talk to the Crime and Corruption Commission.

She said only a full commission of inquiry would be able to give potential witnesses the legal protections necessary.

“In my view, it is the public’s 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,” Stepanov said.

“Any such inquiry ought not be limited to the issues I have raised as Queensland Integrity Commissioner, given the nature and extent of the issues raised by other independent bodies and individuals who appear to be similarly concerned or affected.”

She said there would never be a better time “to be brace and speak out so that all can be a part of a meaningful process of change”.

“In that regard I would strongly urge any person with knowledge of misconduct in the public sector to raise their concerns with the Crime and Corruption Commission.”

Summerell has backed the proposal for a full inquiry.

“Whilst I have no concerns about Dr Coaldrake himself, his review as it stands has fundamental flaws in regard to its scope and protections for those who participate,” he said.

Summerell claimed that if the inquiry was limited to existing senior public servants then the reality was that the inquiry would be talking to those who had succeeded in the current environment and were part of the problem.

Either that or it was speaking to those who had a lot to fear if they did speak up against it, he said.

“The reality for some former public servants such as myself, is that there is a price to pay for pushing back. Without protection from reprisals and anonymity the ability for both former and existing public servants to speak out on these matters is significantly reduced,’’ Summerell said.

“People will have seen the consequences of speaking up already. The response to the issues raised is to repeatedly attack those who have spoken up rather than respond by expressing their concern at the matters they raise. The message that has been sent is that if you speak up you should expect to be attacked.

“I would compare the 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.

“I have seen criticisms already that this is a sham inquiry, designed to buy time, designed to deliver a predetermined outcome and designed simply to quell the current “noise”. 

“That may well be very unfair on Professor Coaldrake, however it is difficult to avoid those criticisms if the terms of reference and scope are controlled by the Premier or others in the government. This inquiry must be allowed to operate independently of any government direction

“I fear that Professor Coaldrake may well have been handed a “poisoned chalice”

“I have to admit if I was still in the Queensland Public Service I would have significant concerns about speaking to this inquiry at this point of time….and if I was a former public servant asked to take part why would I waste my time …..sadly it does cross your mind if that is exactly what is intended.’’

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