Stepanov says integrity office ‘vulnerable’, blames public service watchdog

Queensland’s outgoing Integrity Commissioner has warned her office is in a position of “inherent vulnerability” and backed calls for a formal investigation into the Public Service Commission’s actions and “considerable powers”.

Jan 27, 2022, updated Jan 27, 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 register of lobbyists and provides politicians with confidential integrity advice, announced her resignation last week midway through a three-year term.

Her decision comes with the Crime and Corruption Commission reportedly probing a complaint Dr Stepanov made against the PSC for seizing a laptop from her office and then wiping the device.

“The contents were subsequently deleted without my knowledge or consent,” Stepanov told The Australian on Tuesday.

Stepanov initially remained silent about her decision to leave, but has released a statement partially aimed at the peak public service body.

She said “it is not appropriate” to give the PSC authority over the budget, staff and resources given the importance of the Integrity Commissioner’s office.

“The provision of financial and administrative support for the Integrity Commissioner through the PSC creates the potential for conflicts of interest to arise between the two entities’ functions,” Stepanov said in her statement on Wednesday night.

“Further, the current governance arrangements operate in such a way as to place the Integrity Commissioner in a position of inherent vulnerability, due to dependence on the PSC exercising its considerable powers in a judicious manner.”

Stepanov’s decision to resign came shortly before CCC chair Alan MacSporran also announced he would stand down on Tuesday afternoon.

The boss of the corruption watchdog has been under a cloud with Cabinet considering a scathing Parliamentary Crime and Corruption Committee report, which called for a royal commission into the watchdog after its probe into Logan Council.

The Integrity Commissioner said it’s a coincidence that her resignation has come so close to Mr MacSporran’s.

“My resignation has been considered and planned for some time and could not be regarded as unexpected,” Dr Stepanov said.

However, she noted that details of her confidential resignation notice “were provided to the media” before the statutory processes were completed.

Dr Stepanov said it was her “absolute privilege” to serve as the state’s fifth Integrity Commissioner, but a strategic review completed in September “signalled the start of what ought to be a new chapter for the office.”

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