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Ex-mandarin says public service integrity probe needs to protect whistleblowers

Peter Coaldrake’s public service integrity inquiry needed to ensure current and serving bureaucrats who spoke out against the prevailing culture of their workplace were protected from reprisals, one of the whistleblowers calling for reform has said.

Feb 18, 2022, updated Feb 18, 2022
Former State Archivist Mike Summerell (File photo)

Former State Archivist Mike Summerell (File photo)

Former state archivist Mike Summerell, who has made misconduct allegations in relation to a scandal over the use of private emails accounts by Cabinet ministers, said he welcomed Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s announcement of the Coaldrake review into her government’s accountability performance.

However, he said any meaningful investigation would need to protect those who came forward to criticise the government.

A key requirement for any inquiry will be protection for public servants to speak about these matters without any fear of reprisal or consequence,” Mr Summerell said in a post on LinkedIn.

“Without those protections it will be a meaningless inquiry. To date the only consequences there have been, have been aimed at those who have raised these issues.”

“To date a message has been sent that hardly is conducive to a meaningful investigation of these matters.

“Seems obvious but the review needs to talk to ex public servants those forced out by this culture …talking to them is an obvious requirement to get the truth.”

Ms Palaszczuk has insisted the public “should absolutely have confidence” that Mr Coaldrake, a former Labor donor with three decades of ties to her party, will conduct a proper review of her government’s accountability.

After weeks of questions about misconduct allegations involving the government, the public service and the state’s four integrity watchdogs, the premier has ordered a wide-scale inquiry.

Professor Peter Coaldrake, the former Queensland University of Technology vice-chancellor, has been appointed to lead it.

“We need to do this review, we need to this, to do this review for good government,” Palaszczuk told reporters on Friday.

Prof Coaldrake was the chief executive of the Public Sector Management Commission, set up by the former Goss Labor government to overhaul the public service, from 1990 to 1994.

He’s also a recent Labor party donor, which is something Palaszczuk said she wasn’t aware of before Friday.

“No I wasn’t, but I am absolutely confident that he will do a thorough and effective job now,” the premier said.

She defended Coaldrake, saying Liberal National Party governments had previously appointed him to lead reviews.

“The public should absolutely have confidence in the fact that he was a QUT vice-chancellor over the past 14 years, and I don’t think anyone is going to question his his reputation,” Palaszczuk added.

She says her integrity backflip, after weeks of resisting calls for a probe of her Government, is a result of listening “very carefully” to Queenslanders.

“I listened to people and I have been listening very carefully and I have said very publicly that we could do better,” Palasczcuk said.

“I have thought about this long and hard. I have spoken with my colleagues and we have put in place this review.”

And she vowed that Coaldrake’s two reports, at the two and four month marks,  would be released in full to Queenslanders.

“Both of these reports will be released in full. That is a commitment that I am giving to the people of this State. We will act on all of the recommendations that he presents.”

Palaszczuk said it would be a matter for Coaldrake to decide if public hearings are necessary as part of the review.

And she said she is hopeful Coaldrake will conduct random samples of public servants to garner their views and get a “snapshot” of the State’s public service.

Coaldrake has been asked to investigate the public service’s culture of “ethical” decision-making and impartial advice to the government.

He will also examine the interactions and interdependencies of integrity bodies, public servants and the government.

The inquiry will also check integrity laws, systems designed to prevent ethical and accountability issues arising, whether staff are adequately trained and if integrity complaints are resolved in timely manner.

He’s also been told to focus on systemic issues rather than individual misconduct complaints, with at least two of those under investigation.

The Crime and Corruption Commission is probing whether senior public servants in 2021 took a laptop from Integrity Commissioner Nikola Stepanov’s office and deleted its contents.

Dr Stepanov, who’s resigning in July, has also said the government cut her funding and staff, which the premier denies.

Palaszczuk also tried to have the integrity commissioner probed by a parliamentary committee for alleged misconduct after she complained about the laptop.

Meanwhile, a Queen’s Counsel is probing misconduct claims made by the former state archivist Mike Summerell.

He has alleged interference in his role and his reports, potentially leading to parliament being misled.

At the same time, three separate reviews are looking at whether the CCC, the Integrity Commissioner and the Office of the Independent Assessor, the local government watchdog, are fit for purpose.

The premier will receive Prof Coaldrake’s interim report by mid-April with the final report due in mid-June.

 

 

 

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