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Don’t argue: Public service review chief Coaldrake says he’s a big picture man

The man in charge of a probe into Queensland government integrity says it’s not his job to investigate individual complaints as he distances himself from the Labor Party.

Feb 21, 2022, updated Feb 21, 2022
Peter Coaldrake. (Photo: UQP)

Peter Coaldrake. (Photo: UQP)

Professor Peter Coaldrake was appointed to lead a widescale probe into government accountability and workplace culture ordered by Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk on Friday.

Two probes and three separate reviews have already been launched following weeks of misconduct allegations involving the government, the public service and the state’s four integrity watchdogs.

Prof Coaldrake’s review comes after a series of complaints from current and former public servants and watchdogs, but he says his job is to examine the system.

“My inquiry is not a complaint driven inquiry, so it is not for me to investigate individual complaints,” he told ABC Radio on Monday.

“But it is certainly for me to understand the problems that have been ventilated, that are being aired in the public arena, matters of concern to the community, the matters of concern to the government, the matters of concern to opposition, and of course, the matters of a concern inside the public sector itself.”

Coaldrake insisted his job was to understand the biggest picture and there were already existing mechanisms to probe complaints “which may or may not need to be improved”.

However, he confirmed he would talk to the heads of watchdogs including Integrity Commissioner Nikola Stepanov, who has herself made a complaint about interference in her role.

Coaldrake also sought to distance himself from the Labor party amid concerns about a conflict of interest due to his former membership and donation to the party in 2018.

The academic said somewhere between 1980 and 1985 he was a Labor party member and went to “one or two meetings” before resigning.

“I’ll just say this. I decided that that wasn’t probably the right place for me, and so that was the end of that,” Coaldrake said.

The former Queensland University of Technology vice-chancellor also led an overhaul of the public service between 1990 and 1994 for the then-Goss Labor government.

However, he said he had been appointed to various roles by both sides of politics since then including to the Heritage Council by the Newman LNP government.

He is also the current national Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency commissioner after being appointed to the role be the federal coalition government.

Coaldrake also admitted paying $1760 for a table for the Queensland Performing Arts Centre board, of which he was a member, at a Queensland Labor post-budget lunch in 2018.

He said the lunch was about an announcement of funding for a new theatre and it would have been “churlish to the extreme” not to go.

“We equally thought as a board and I personally thought that it would be just simply bad idea to pay for the corporate tables with anything that could possibly look like public funds, and so I just said I’ll pay for the table myself,” Coaldrake said.

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