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Premier again under siege over integrity as she rejects early recall of parliament

An attempt to recall the Queensland Parliament early to scrutinise a number of integrity accusations has been swiftly rejected by the state’s premier as she denied her government had moved to sack Integrity Commissioner Nikola Stepanov.

Feb 02, 2022, updated Feb 02, 2022
In choosing to ignore bullying behaviour, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk is failing to show leadership. (AAP Image/Darren England)

In choosing to ignore bullying behaviour, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk is failing to show leadership. (AAP Image/Darren England)

With the state’s political agenda again dominated by questions over the government’s record on integrity matters, Ms Palaszczuk was forced to address claims by Dr Stepanov that the government had taken steps to remove her after she raised the alarm over suspicious conduct.

Stepanov has tendered her resignation from her post but has told News Corp she believed that her referral to a parliamentary oversight committee last year was likely a government move to have her sacked.

Questioned about the referral, the premier flatly denied it was about removing Stepanov, saying the question was “factually incorrect”.

Parliament is not due to return until February 22, but opposition leader David Crisafulli wants MPs to return next week so ministers can “face the music”.

“There are questions that must be asked and there are questions that must be answered,” he told reporters on Wednesday.

The call was quickly rejected by Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk who said she was “looking forward to debating all of these issues” when parliament resumes as scheduled.

It follows Ms Palaszczuk ordering her department’s director-general Rachel Hunter to probe allegations by former archivist Mike Summerell that he was told to remove “damaging” sections of his annual reports.

“She will have a look at the allegations that arose today, and she will do that as the head of the public service in Queensland,” Palaszczuk said under what has become daily media questioning about her government’s integrity record..

Mr Summerell said he felt pressured to leave his role in May when current housing minister Leeanne Enoch offered him a three-month extension on his five-year contract.

Palaszczuk has also appointed former judge Tony Fitzgerald to review the state’s Crime and Corruption Commission structure and functions following a 2019 probe into Logan Council in which charges were eventually dropped.

“The premier is willing to subject the CCC to a full-blown inquiry and does not want one iota of scrutiny on the actions of the government,” Crisafulli said.

Former CCC chair Alan MacSporran’s resignation came days after news broke that Integrity Commissioner Nikola Stepanov would step down from her role later this year.

The CCC is separately probing allegations the Public Service Commission took a laptop from Dr Stepanov’s office and wiped its contents without her knowledge or permission last year.

Crisafulli has questioned if the premier’s director-general, who is also the acting chair of the Public Service Commission, is the right person to be investigating the state archivist’s allegations.

“It’s the Public Service Commission that’s alleged to have gone in, taken the laptop and erased it, so I’m not quite sure if the premier understands the magnitude of this,” he said.

However, the premier responded by saying that as the head of the public service, it was appropriate for Ms Hunter to probe the annual report allegations.

Asked if it was common for annual reports to be changed, she said:”Sometimes there might be a spelling mistake, sometimes there might be incorrect reporting figures, so from time to time annual reports would be changed.”

“But if there are any serious allegations, the Director-General is the appropriate person to look at that.”

Katter’s Australian Party and Greens MPs have backed a broader inquiry after the resignations of Dr Stepanov and Mr MacSporran.

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