Corruption and Integrity Update – April 2024

22 May 2024
Daniel Maroske, Partner, Brisbane

In this edition of the Queensland Corruption and Integrity Update we consider a number of Councillor Conduct Tribunal (CCT) matters, recent parliamentary matters of privilege, the inquiry into the report into the Queensland Audit Office (QAO), and the independent review into the Crime and Corruption Commission’s reporting on the performance of its corruption functions (CCC Review). 

Councillor Conduct Tribunal Updates

City of Gold Coast – unsubstantiated allegations against a Councillor 

The CCT has released its decision and reasons relating to the alleged misconduct of a councillor from the City of Gold Coast. The decision considered a complaint alleging the Councillor misinformed a Council meeting about a personal interest. The complaint was held not to be substantiated. 

The CCT heard that, during a meeting the councillor made a declaration of a personal interest relating to previous personal use of a consultant. The respondent disclosed that the services provided were “probably less than $2,000 in consultancy fees” and that it had not been subject to a discount or submitted in a development application. It was later determined that the professional fees paid by the councillor and their spouse had been at least $6,520 plus GST and outlays.   

The CCT found that the allegation of misconduct could not be substantiated. Despite the Tribunal being satisfied that an inaccurate statement was made, the statement itself was sufficient to enable the non-conflicted councillors to make an informed decision about whether a conflict of interest existed. In relation to the allegation that there was a “breach of trust”, the CCT determined that the use of the word “probably” indicated that the figure was an estimate and was therefore the councillor’s “best attempt at telling the truth.  

Mayor Tom Tate – substantiated findings 

In late April 2024, the CCT released its decision and reasons regarding alleged misconduct by Mayor Tom Tate of the City of Gold Coast. The decision related to four separate allegations of failing to declare a conflict of interest at Council meetings between 2015 and 2018, where it was suggested that Mayor Tate held personal interest in various matters, including a personal relationship with legal representatives who had been contracted to work for the City of Gold Coast. 

At the hearing, Mayor Tate did not contest the factual basis of the allegations, rather denied that the facts gave rise to misconduct. Considering the test for misconduct as set out in the Local Government Act 2009, the CCT ultimately found that all four allegations could be substantiated, and reprimanded Mayor Tate and ordered him to reimburse the local government a total of $3,000. 

Former Rockhampton Mayor – setting aside finding of misconduct 

On 30 April 2024, the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) delivered its judgment setting aside the decision made by the CCT on 2 July 2020 that a former Mayor of Rockhampton had engaged in misconduct. The allegation related to a purported failure to record on the register of interests a hospitality benefit received during a trade delegation to India in March 2017. As a result of QCAT’s finding, the penalty imposed by the CCT was also set aside.  

QCAT held that the former Mayor was not required to enter the hospitality on the register of interests because it was not an ‘interest’ under section 17 of schedule 5 of the Local Government Regulation 2012 (Qld) and because it did not give rise to a conflict with her duties. Therefore, the former Mayor did not engage in any misconduct.  

Recent Parliamentary matters of privilege 

The Queensland Parliament Ethics Committee (Ethics Committee) is responsible for dealing with complaints about the ethical conduct of particular members and dealing with alleged breaches of parliamentary privilege by members of the Assembly and other persons. Over the course of March and April 2024, there have been a range of matters referred to the Ethics Committee relating to alleged breaches of privilege, including: 

  1. a matter of privilege referred by the Speaker on 16 April 2024 relating to the covert filming of a member on the Parliamentary Precinct; 
  1. a matter of privilege referred by the Housing, Big Build and Manufacturing Committee on 6 March 2024 relating to unauthorised publication of confidential committee material on a Facebook account of a Residents Action Group; 
  1. a matter of privilege referred by the Speaker on 5 March 2024 regarding the spying of a members’ phone in the Chamber; and 
  1. a matter of privilege referred by the Speaker on 7 March 2024 relating to allegations members involved themselves in disorderly conduct on the Parliamentary precinct. 

The Ethics Committee has only just begun its inquiries into these matters, and we expect updates on its reports will follow soon.  

Inquiry into the report on the strategic review of the Queensland Audit Office  

On 15 February 2024, the Premier tabled the final report on the 2023 Strategic Review of the Queensland Audit (the Report) in Parliament. An independent strategic review of the Queensland Audit Office (QAO), the independent auditor of the public sector, is conducted at least every five years as required by section 68 of the Auditor-General Act 2009 (Qld).   

The Cost of Living and Economics Committee (the Committee) has the oversight responsibility for the QAO and appointed Professor Emeritus Ian O’Connor AC as the lead reviewer. The final report came to the overall conclusion that QAO’s functions are performed economically, effectively, and efficiently. The 38 recommendations set out in the Report, which were accepted by the QAO in its response to the Report, include: 

  • that the Auditor-General consider the governance structure of the QAO; 
  • that sections relevant to the QAO of the Integrity and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2023 be passed and proclaimed; and 
  • that the Queensland Legislation Handbook be amended to ensure that the Auditor-General is consulted where legislation is drafted that impacts on the statutory powers or responsibilities of the Auditor-General. 

During the public hearing held on 29 April 2024, Mr Brendan Worrall, Auditor-General of the Queensland Audit Office, stated that the QAO was in the process of taking steps to ensure that the QAO maintained independence, and specifically referenced the recommendations previously made by Professor Coaldrake with respect to the independence of the organisation.   

Submissions on all aspects of the enquiry closed on 1 May 2024, following a public hearing and public briefing in April. Three submissions were received from the Office of the Information Commissioner, Crime and Corruption Commission, and the Australasian Council of Auditors General. 

Submissions made to the independent review into the Crime and Corruption Commission’s reporting on the performance of its corruption functions 

Over the course of March and April, there have been several important updates stemming from the CCC Review. 

On 20 March 2024, the CCC Review updated the terms of reference which permit the reviewer, the Honourable Catherine Holmes AC SC (the Reviewer), to consider reporting powers that relate to the CCC’s prevention functions, in addition to its corruption functions.  

Additionally, the CCC Review has published a number of key submissions relevant to the terms of reference. Some of the key submissions are set out below: 

  • CCC – the CCC made three separate submissions on 12 and 14 March, and 18 April 2024, and acknowledged that the balance between the public interest and the corruption functions of the CCC is difficult, particularly when seeking to provide fairness to those being investigated. The CCC’s submissions also considered: 
    • retrospective amendments of legislation; 
    • the publication of identifying information in CCC prevention materials; 
    • the operation of section 50 of the Crime and Corruption Act 2001; 
    • the CCC’s witness welfare program;  
    • human rights considerations in reporting on corruption investigations; and 
    • the CCC’s approach to publishing and tabling of reports and the making of public statements.  
  • Queensland Law Society (QLS) – the QLS’ submission primarily responded to the submissions of the CCC relating to the Crime and Corruption Amendment Bill 2023, noting that it does not support the proposed amendments to the current provisions in the Crime and Corruption Act  2001 (Qld), on the basis that the the power to report on corruption investigations is not justified in circumstances where a CCC investigation has found no corrupt conduct to exist. The QLS also opposes the retrospective application of legislation; 
  • Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) – the DDP noted in its submission that the reporting function of the CCC would not be a topic that it would ordinarily consider, and that its only interest is in the reporting on individuals upon whom the DPP are required to give advice on in relation to corruption investigations. The DPP expressed concerns with the risk associated with the reporting of individual matters that may result in the inappropriate use of information for political or personal gain, or negatively impact the reputation of a person; and 
  • Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) – the OIC’s submission acknowledged the tendency for agencies to refuse access to information even in circumstances where the Right to Information Act 2009 may allow an agency to do so where there are otherwise grounds to refuse access, and that this limits transparency and accountability in investigations into corrupt conduct. The OIC emphasised the public interest in the promotion of transparency, and noted that it would support “alternative, credible means for sharing information with the public about CCC investigations.” The OIC also acknowledged the importance of the CCC as an integrity body to maintain public confidence in key decision making and public administration, and that open decision making would likely encourage greater trust in government organisations.  

The CCC review is due to provide a report to the Attorney-General and Minister for Justice and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence by 20 May 2024.

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Authored by:
Daniel Maroske, Partner
Anna Fanelli, Senior Associate
Monica Baur, Solicitor
Isabella Parsons, Graduate
Safira Dashwood, Paralegal

This update does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. It is intended only to provide a summary and general overview on matters of interest and it is not intended to be comprehensive. You should seek legal or other professional advice before acting or relying on any of the content.

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