Brought to heel: Tony Fitzgerald urges checks and balances for Queensland’s corruption watchdog

Queensland’s corruption watchdog should go through greater checks and balances before lodging corruption charges following a bungled investigation into Logan City Council, a report has found.

Aug 09, 2022, updated Aug 09, 2022
Tony Fitzgerald, QC. (Image: ABC)

Tony Fitzgerald, QC. (Image: ABC)

The probe into the Crime and Corruption Commission, headed by former judge and corruption fighter Tony Fitzgerald, delivered 32 recommendations to the state government on Tuesday.

The findings include the agency relying less on seconded police by recruiting more skilled civilian investigators.

The watchdog will also have to seek legal advice from the Director of Public Prosecutions before proceeding with charges in corruption investigations.

The state government is likely to accept all the recommendations, aimed at improving public trust in the CCC, with the report to go to cabinet on Monday, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says.

The probe, jointly headed by Fitzgerald and former judge Alan Wilson QC, was sparked by the collapse of several prosecution cases against mayors and other local government figures, including seven former Logan City councillors who were wrongly accused of fraud.

Palaszczuk dismissed questions on whether she sympathised with the former Logan councillors, insisting she was not going to make an emotional response.

However, she acknowledged implementing the report’s recommendations would improve the treatment of those targeted by CCC investigations.

“No one would like to see what happened to those particular councillors happen again,” the premier told reporters on Tuesday.

“There is nothing here that I cannot see our government implementing.”

The report’s authors with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman. (Image: Qld Govt)

Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman said a balance needed to be struck between protecting peoples’ reputations and stamping out corruption.

Other key findings include funding for a new corruption strategy and prevention unit as part of an overarching restructure, the premier said.

This would reduce reliance on seconded police officers and strengthen the organisation’s oversight.

The report said the current police secondment arrangements did not provide the CCC with appropriate flexibility, and it should be able to make changes depending on its needs.

“This will require the CCC to consider the skills it needs, at what time and for what purpose, and engage with the QPS to ensure the composition of the group reflects those needs,” it said.

The CCC inquiry followed claims the watchdog breached its duty to remain independent and impartial during its bungled 2019 probe into Logan Council.

Flaws in the Logan City Council matter showed a degree of ‘group think’ or ‘pack culture’ amongst police seconded to the CCC, the report found.

“The CCC lacks … both internal and external checks and balances that appropriately addressed these risks,” it noted.

“We have concluded that seconded police officers remain a valuable asset in the CCC’s work but their skills and experience do not entirely meet the requirements of the CCC’s corruption investigations.”

The former Logan mayor and seven councillors were charged with fraud, which lead to the council’s dismissal before all prosecutions were discontinued almost two years later.

A Parliamentary Crime and Corruption Committee probe later found the watchdog had failed to act “independently and impartially” in laying fraud charges which lead to the inquiry.

The Local Government Association of Queensland welcomed the proposed curbs on the CCC but insisted it was time the state government apologised to the former Logan councillors and offered them compensation.

“The LGAQ called for this Commission of Inquiry because what happened in the Logan matter damaged not just the livelihoods and reputations of those wrongly charged, but also the reputations of the CCC and the local government sector,” LGAQ chief executive Alison Smith said.

“The State must now make amends for the actions of the CCC by ensuring compensation and an apology for all those impacted and by implementing the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry to safeguard against a repeat of this travesty of justice.”

Fitzgerald, who led the landmark 1989 inquiry into state government corruption that resulted in the creation of the CCC, headed the review into the agency’s role and functions.

Former judge Alan Wilson QC also headed the inquiry into the watchdog’s structure and functions, and its use of police officers.

It received 87 submissions from targeted stakeholders including integrity agencies, policing services, directors of public prosecutions, academics, unions, peak bodies, local councils and former and serving local councillors, as well as members of the community.

Former NSW ombudsman Bruce Barbour was permanently appointed to the powerful role of chairman almost six months after the departure of Alan MacSporran.

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