Corruption and Integrity Update – November 2023

6 December 2023
Daniel Maroske, Partner, Brisbane

In this edition of the Corruption and Integrity Update, we cover the appointment of a former judge as Chair of the new Complaints Oversight Board, analyse the various annual reports published by the Queensland Integrity Commissioner and the Parliamentary Crime and Corruption Committee, and consider the Crime and Corruption Commission’s review into the proceeds of crime regime. Finally, we take a look at recent Councillor Conduct Tribunal determinations, and highlight an instance of ‘fake lawyering’.

Complaints Oversight Board

In September 2023, the Queensland Government renewed its commitment to implementing the complaints clearing house as recommended by Professor Peter Coaldrake in his June 2022 Report. On 28 November 2023, Premier Palaszczuk announced that former District Court Judge, Mr Michael Forde, has been appointed to oversee the development of the new Complaints Oversight Board. The Complaints Oversight Board will include members from government agencies involved in the management of complaints, including the Information Commissioner, the CCC, and the Queensland Ombudsman.

Queensland Integrity Commissioner Annual Report

The Office of the Queensland Integrity Commissioner (OQIC) has released its Annual Report for 2022-23 which highlights the work of the OQIC over the last financial year.

The Report referenced the amendments to the Integrity Act 2009 throughout the year, including changes to:

  • formally establish the OQIC;
  • reduce reliance on employees of the Public Sector Commission to address integrity issues by creating roles for integrity officers employed within the OQIC;
  • add provisions that reinforce the independence of the OQIC;
  • establish the Deputy Integrity Commissioner position; and
  • create the offence of unregistered lobbying.

A key activity of the OQIC in the past year has been the development and implementation of the new Lobbying Register, which was launched in May 2023. The new Lobbying Register was a recommendation in the 2021 Strategic Review of the Integrity Commissioner’s Functions by Mr Kevin Yearbury as the previous register was deemed not fit for purpose.

During 2022-23, the OQIC:

  • received 78 formal requests for ethics, integrity, or interests issues advice from designated persons, with 71 formal written advices issued;
  • registered 300 listed persons on the Queensland Lobbying Register, 52 enquiries about lobbying, and 665 lobbying contacts with government and opposition representatives;
  • delivered 4 education and awareness presentations, had 65 meetings with designated persons, and 63 other stakeholder meetings; and
  • received 23 enquiries from non-designated persons, including members of the public.

Parliamentary Crime and Corruption Committee Annual Report

The Parliamentary Crime and Corruption Committee (PCCC) has released its Annual Report for 2022-23 which contains details of the PCCC’s oversight of the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) during the last financial year.

During 2022-23, the PCCC:

  • finalised 29 complaints;
  • held eight oversight meetings with the CCC and a further eight meetings with the Parliamentary Crime and Corruption Commissioner; and
  • finalised 27 section 329 notifications in relation to suspected improper conduct by officers of the CCC.

The report also highlighted the PCCC’s focus on the CCC’s ongoing reform work and its response to the High Court’s decision in Crime and Corruption Commission v Carne [2023] HCA 28.

CCC commences consultation on Criminal Proceeds Confiscation Act 2002

Earlier in the year, the CCC commenced a review of the Criminal Proceeds Confiscation Act 2002 (Qld) (the Act), following findings of inquiries that there was scope for reform. The Act currently authorises and empowers specific public officials to apply to the Supreme Court to restrain or forfeit assets that are believed to be derived from or connected with criminal offending, with or without a criminal conviction, and then disposed of by the Public Trustee. In the 2022-23 financial year, orders made under the Act resulted in:

  • $5.2 million in property restrained;
  • $4.3 million in property confiscated;
  • a total of $10 million was collected on the basis of forfeiture orders; and
  • over $90,000 collected on the basis of pecuniary penalty orders.

On 24 November 2023, the CCC released a discussion paper to support a public consultation on the Act.

The CCC has broadly identified that Queensland’s asset confiscation regime contains a number of intersecting challenges and the discussion paper identifies three areas as the most significant challenges or issues for potential reform:

  • revision of the operation of Queensland’s asset confiscation regime;
  • expansion of asset confiscation mechanisms within the regime; and
  • amendment of provisions that are barriers to an efficient and effective regime.

Submissions are to be made by Friday 22 December 2023.

Councillor Conduct Tribunal Decisions

Allegations regarding Registers of Interest

On 20 November 2023, the Councillor Conduct Tribunal (CCT) released its decision and reasons in relation to 14 allegations that a councillor engaged in misconduct pursuant to the Local Government Act 2009 (Qld) (the Act).

The allegations variously related to alleged breaches of trust for failing to ensure the accuracy of their Registers of Interests (ROI), as required by the Act and related Regulations. The CCT found that the obligation to provide an update to the ROI arises on the 31st day after an interest arises.

Seven of the allegations could not be sustained on the basis that any non-compliance was deemed to be ‘so minor as to be trivial’ and could not be considered a breach of the trust in him as a councillor in circumstances where the councillor held an ‘honest but mistaken belief that his conduct had complied with the law.’ The remaining seven allegations were substantiated as the conduct was more serious, demonstrating ‘a stark ignorance of the Commonwealth laws regarding proper conduct of company officers,’ and constituted a breach of trust, whereby the conduct was not consistent with the local government principle of ethical and legal behaviour of councillors.

Within 90 days of the CCT’s decision, the councillor is required to make a public admission of misconduct at an ordinary General Council meeting, attend training or counselling at their expense to address their conduct, and pay the council an amount of $2,167.20 as a penalty.

Allegations regarding misuse of information

On 21 November 2023, the CCT released its decision and reasons regarding an allegation that a councillor engaged in misconduct pursuant to the Act.

The allegation was that the councillor, following a meeting with the Acting Director of Infrastructure, advised their daughter the council might investigate the possibility of the use of labour hire in the future, and invited a submission on the services that the labour hire company her daughter worked at, Company X, could offer. In this communication, the councillor provided her daughter with contact details for two relevant council officers.

The CCT found that, on the balance of possibilities, the councillor provided an external party with information acquired in, or in connection with, their function as a councillor, and that providing their daughter with the information constituted a ‘misuse’ of the information. The CCT considered whether there was a benefit as a result of this misuse of information, given that Company X was the only local labour hire company and would have been considered first in any procurement process, and, while the council was not aware of Company X at the time, the CCT ultimately determined any benefit was irrelevant because the key issue in the matter was the councillor’s conduct. Having regard to the relevant matters, the CCT found that the allegation could be sustained.

The councillor is required to make a public admission at a general meeting of the council that they engaged in misconduct, and attend training to address their conduct, at their own expense.

Fake lawyer granted appeal following guilty plea

In the recent District Court decision of Arulogun v Legal Services Commissioner [2023] QDC 207, an appeal against a 12-month prison sentence was allowed and the sentence imposed was reduced, following an earlier plea of guilty to providing legal advice while misrepresenting himself as a lawyer.

While the appellant holds a Bachelor of Laws degree from the Queensland University of Technology, he has never been admitted to the legal profession as required by section 24 of the Legal Profession Act 2007 (Qld) for those wishing to engage in legal practice in Queensland.

Charges were brought by the Legal Services Commissioner (LSC) following his representation on the website Airtasker that he could provide ‘litigation process, commercial, IR and HR and government consulting’ and ‘workplace relations and employment advice from $50.’ Through this website, the appellant provided advice to over 33 people and earned approximately $8,126.00 in fees. These representations came to light following the attempted use of his advice in a 2020 trial.

The appellant plead guilty to a total of 65 charges brought by the LSC:

  • 32 charges of engaging in legal practice when not entitled to;
  • 32 charges of falsely representing or advertising that he was entitled to engage in law practice; and
  • one charge as the director of a company he implied was an incorporated legal practice.

The District Court found that the Magistrate’s original decision erred in rejecting delay as a mitigating factor during sentencing, in circumstances where sentencing occurred 22 months after the appellant had given undertakings to the Supreme Court. During this period, he did not reoffend and abided by his bail conditions.

The 12-month prison sentence was reduced to nine months by the District Court, though the necessity of a prison sentence was also re-emphasised in view of aggravating factors arising from a prior criminal history of fraud and drug offences, the deliberate and sophisticated nature of the numerous charges brought by the LSC, and the ‘paramount’ importance of public confidence in the legal system.

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Authored by:
Daniel Maroske, Partner
Anna Fanelli, Senior Associate
Safira Dashwood, Paralegal
Cameron Beavis, Vacation Clerk

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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