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Don’t argue: Premier shunts fresh integrity allegations off to her department

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has asked her own director-general to look into allegations that a minister forced the former state archivist to mislead parliament.

Feb 01, 2022, updated Feb 01, 2022
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has pledged $1 billion to build more than 5600 social housing homes. (AAP Image/Darren England)

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has pledged $1 billion to build more than 5600 social housing homes. (AAP Image/Darren England)

Ms Palaszczuk is resisting calls for an inquiry into government integrity after state archivist Mike Summerell alleged that a minister pressured him into “misleading parliament” for two years.

Mr Summerell says Housing Minister Mick de Brenni told him in 2018 that he no longer had independence from the department.

The archivist said he was then forced to change annual reports to remove parts that were “embarrassing or damaging to the government”, and if he didn’t, his reports would be changed before being tabled in parliament.

He says he felt pressured to leave his role in May after the government offered him a three-month extension on his five-year contract.

Palaszczuk said the state archivist was not an independent statutory role, but she had asked her own department’s Director-General Rachel Hunter to investigate Summerell’s claims.

However, she said he should have put his complaints to the Crime and Corruption Commission at the time.

“Let’s let the director-general have a look at these issues,” she said.

“But as I said, with serious allegations the public service know their code of conduct, and they know where to send serious allegations, and that is to the CCC.”

The premier said she hadn’t spoken to Mr de Brenni about the allegations because “he was probably doing important government businesses”.

Palaszczuk also refused to say whether she’d asked current Housing Minister Leeanne Enoch about her statement to parliament, saying Summerell had opted not to renew his five-year contract.

Ms Enoch issued a short statement later insisting the state archivist “was appointed under the Public Service Act 2008 and reports to the Deputy Director-General and ultimately to the Director General of the department, not the Minister”.

“If the former State Archivist has evidence, he believes requires further investigation, he should provide it to the relevant authorities,” she said.

The former archivist said after his 2018 meeting with de Brenni, he was told by superiors to remove references to his probe into an email scandal involving Transport Minister Mark Bailey from his annual report.

When he later refused to change annual reports “to make the government look good”, they were tabled by de Brenni with controversial sections removed.

“For 2 years I was directed to create misleading annual reports to parliament by DHPW senior officials with as far as I am concerned only one objective – don’t say anything that could be embarrassing or damaging to the government,” Summerrell said in a statement to News Corp on Tuesday.

The former archivist said “misleading parliament” was a huge integrity issue and that “I don’t believe at all that my experiences were unique”.

“People need to know how little respect this government has for the integrity of the public record, transparency and accountability,” Summerrell said.

Liberal National Party leader David Crisafulli called for the premier to immediately sack de Brenni and Ms Enoch.

He said the issues can only be resolved by Commission of Inquiry into government integrity and Mr Bailey should also stand aside while the probe occurs.

“The premier has no other choice but to launch a full royal commission into the integrity inferno burning her government to a crisp,” Mr Crisafulli told reporters.

Katter’s Australian Party and Greens MPs back an integrity inquiry after the resignations of Queensland Integrity Commissioner Nikola Stepanov and Crime and Corruption (CCC) chairman Alan MacSporran.

Like Summerell, Dr Stepanov has also complained of “interference” in her role, with the CCC probing an allegation that the Public Service Commission confiscated a laptop from her office and later deleted its contents without her knowledge or consent last year.

Meanwhile, Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman says former judge Tony Fitzgerald could broaden the scope of his inquiry into the CCC.

The state government has appointed Fitzgerald, who led a landmark 1987/89 inquiry into corruption in Queensland leading to the establishment of the CCC, to review the watchdog.

Former judge Alan Wilson QC has also been chosen for the Commission of Inquiry, which will review the watchdog’s structure and functions, and its use of police officers.

Ms Fentiman says the commissioners are free to broaden terms of reference.

“Well that’s a matter for him, obviously,” she told 4BC Radio on Tuesday.

“If he believes that there does need to be further investigation, I mean, it’s Tony Fitzgerald, I don’t think he’ll hold back.”

The government ordered the inquiry in response to a December parliamentary report, which called for a royal commission into the CCC after criticising its bungled 2019 probe into Logan Council.

The Parliamentary Crime and Corruption Committee report also triggered CCC chairperson Alan MacSporran’s resignation last Tuesday.

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