New broom: Premier proposes sweeping integrity reforms to improve scrutiny

Queensland will have an independent political lobbying watchdog and people caught lobbying without being registered will face fines of almost $29,000 under proposed new laws.

Oct 14, 2022, updated Oct 14, 2022
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has pleaded for community patience while Australia's "toughest youth crime laws" have had time to take effect. (AAP Image/Darren England)

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has pleaded for community patience while Australia's "toughest youth crime laws" have had time to take effect. (AAP Image/Darren England)

The reforms come after a number of scandals and allegations, prompted a raft of inquiries over the Palaszczuk Government’s attitude to integrity and accountability.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk tabled a bill to set up a new Office of Integrity Commissioner, independent of government, to oversee lobbying in the state.

“Queenslanders quite rightly expect their government to provide public services that demand transparent and accountable decision-making,” she told parliament on Friday.

“My government is committed to strengthening our integrity and oversight framework, so it is contemporary and maintains and improves a culture of accountability.

“No one will be able to direct the Integrity Commissioner on how to perform their function or how to prioritise ethics or integrity cases under the laws.

Staff in the new office would remain public service employees but the new law prevents them from being directed by anyone outside their office.

Palaszczuk said that included directions on the way functions were performed and the priority given to ethics or integrity issues.

Unregistered lobbying would become an offence with those found guilty liable for a fine of 200 penalty units – about $28,750.

The Queensland Auditor-General will be made an officer of parliament and given control over resources in their own office.

Government-owned corporations, such as Energex and Queensland Rail, would now be the subject of performance audits by the Auditor-General.

Palaszczuk said the ombudsman’s office would be strategically reviewed every five years, rather than the current seven, under the proposed laws.

The reforms come four months after a review of government accountability and culture by public administrator and academic Professor Peter Coaldrake.

His report highlighted a tolerance for bullying among public servants and a reluctance to deviate from the perceived official government line.

Earlier on Friday, the premier announced she has appointed former NSW deputy and Victorian assistant ombudsman Linda Waugh as the state’s new integrity commissioner.

New integrity commissioner Linda Waugh

Her predecessor, Dr Nikola Stepanov, resigned in controversy earlier this year after a laptop was removed from her office by the Public Service Commission without her permission.

A Crime and Corruption Commission probe found no wrongdoing in relation to the device.
However, the watchdog questioned the “ongoing suitability” of the Department of Premier and Cabinet providing IT services for the Integrity Commissioner.

The CCC also pointed out public service bosses controlled the lobbyist watchdog’s staff and budget.

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