Queensland Corruption and Integrity Update – January 2023

7 February 2023
Daniel Maroske, Partner, Brisbane

This month’s Corruption and Integrity Update considers a number of important developments within the Queensland landscape including the recent Issues Paper released by The Honourable Alan Wilson KC as part of his review of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2010; the publication by the Crime and Corruption Commission of a report on influence and transparency in Queensland’s public sector; a summary of the Coroners Court of Queensland’s Annual Report; a rundown of the latest published decision of the Councillor Conduct Tribunal; and recent government appointments including the Inspector of Detention Services, the Forensic Science Queensland’s interim advisory board, and the Deputy Chairperson of the Crime and Corruption Commission.

Review of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2010 (Qld)

As summarised in the November 2022 Corruption and Integrity Update, the Attorney-General announced a review of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2010 (PID Act). The review will be led by The Honourable Alan Wilson KC and will be provided to the Attorney-General by 30 April 2023.

Under the Terms of Reference, the review will consider:

  • Whether the objects of the PID Act remain valid and are being achieved
  • Whether the provisions of the PID Act are appropriate, and consistent with the aims and provisions of the Human Rights Act 2019 (Qld)
  • The type of matters and information that can be disclosed under the PID Act
  • Whether the range of disclosers under the PID Act should be extended to include volunteers, contracted service providers, trainees, students and former public officers
  • Pathways and processes for public interest disclosures
  • Protections afforded to public interest disclosers
  • Arrangements for education, training, and awareness raising about the PID Act in public sector agencies
  • Relevant issues raised in recent reports including the Coaldrake Report, the PCCC’s report into the investigation of former councillors of Logan City Council, and the Queensland Ombudsman’s 2017 review of the PID Act
  • Developments in other jurisdictions
Issues Paper

On 30 January 2023, His Honour released an Issues Paper relevant to his review. The Issues Paper seeks submissions to inform the review and sets out the issues for consideration alongside 44 questions to consider.

The questions range from matters such as the title of the relevant legislation, the scope of the PID regime, experiences of disclosers under the PID Act, and whether a person should be required to have a particular state of mind when reporting wrongdoing under the PID regime.

To guide submissions, the questions to consider are grouped into 10 categories:

    1. Policy objectives of the PID Act
    2. What is a public interest disclosure
    3. Who can make a public interest disclosure
    4. Experiences of people who witness and report wrongdoing
    5. Making, receiving and identifying PIDs
    6. Managing, investigating, and responding to PIDs
    7. Projections for disclosers, subject officers and witnesses
    8. Remedies
    9. Role of the oversight agency
    10. Practical considerations

Submissions are due by 5pm on Friday 24 February 2023.

Corruption Prevention Report – Influence and transparency in Queensland’s public sector

On 30 January 2023, the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) released its first publication for 2023. The report entitled ‘Influence and transparency in Queensland’s public sector: Minimising the corruption risks associated with improper influence on government decisions’ notes the increased public attention on lobbying in Queensland, and highlights areas of continuing risk and opportunities for reform.

Throughout the report, while highlighting the strong framework already in place, the CCC proposes reforms to enhance Queensland’s integrity landscape and better ensure government decision-making aligns with public expectations. The proposed reforms include suggestions that the Queensland government:

  1. Broaden the scope of who is required to register and disclose lobbying activity

To achieve this objective, the CCC proposes:

  • amending the definition of ‘lobbyist’ to focus on the activity of influencing rather than the individuals or organisations, or the frequency of that behaviour; and
  • expanding the definition of ‘government representative’ and ‘opposition representative’ to explicitly include all members of parliament and electorate employees.
  1. Ensure greater visibility and public scrutiny of all interactions aimed at influencing government decisions at both a state and local government level
    The CCC proposes that government require all elected officials make public information about their meetings with the private sector, including details of the purpose or the reason for the contact with who was present at the meeting.
  2. Introduce better controls over the influence of former government or opposition representatives

To achieve this, the CCC suggests government:

  • prohibit former senior government and opposition representatives from registering as lobbyists for a specified period after leaving office;
  • require recorded lobbying activity to include details of the individuals who undertook the lobbying activities;
  • require former government or opposition representatives who undertake lobbying activities to provide details of their former roles in the two years prior to separating (including position title and the name of the agency they were employed in);
  • require lobbyists to make records confirming their lobbying representations did not relate to dealings they had in the two years prior to leaving office; and
  • require government or opposition representatives approached by lobbyists who formerly worked in government or opposition to declare they have satisfied themselves that the lobbying activity does not breach post-separation restrictions.
  1. Audit compliance with post-separation restrictions

The CCC:

  • proposes internal audits of lobbying controls and frameworks including consideration of the adequacy of policies, procedures and recordkeeping systems; compliance with recordkeeping and other requirements; and training provided to employees about engaging with lobbyists, their recordkeeping obligations and conflicts of interest management; and
  • supports the notion of the Queensland Audit Office (QAO) assessing compliance with post-separation restrictions.
  1. Introduce a dual reporting platform which requires both lobbyists and government and opposition representatives to disclose contact
  1. Better manage the risks associated with government board appointments

To achieve this, the CCC suggests government:

  • introduce a requirement that all prospective board appointees declare conflicts of interests (including affiliations with trade unions or interest groups);
  • the nominating person confirm in writing that all potential, perceived or actual conflicts have been declared and considered;
  • enhance training and guidance for board appointees about declaring and managing conflicts of interest and avoiding improper influence;
  • strengthen obligations for boards to proactively manage conflicts of interest; and
  • require board appointees to publicly disclose if they were a former government or opposition representative.
  1. Deliver education about transparency requirements and how to prevent improper influence
  • consider options to ensure public sector employees understand the types of behaviours that lead to, or increase the risk of, improper influence, and increase awareness of their recordkeeping requirements in relation to interactions with the private sector; and
  • the government should also consider providing regular education to lobbyists about the expected standards of conduct and their transparency and disclosure obligations.

CCC Chairperson, Bruce Barbour noted the proposed reforms align with best practice in other jurisdictions, and, if implemented, would help to improve public trust and confidence that government decisions are not improperly influenced.

In preparing the report, the CCC sought comment from the Queensland Integrity Commissioner, the Department of the Premier and Cabinet, Department of Justice and Attorney General, Department of State Development Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning, Public Service Commission and the Queensland Audit Office. In response to its public discussion paper, the CCC received 54 submissions from community members, professional associations, advocacy groups, industry bodies, lobbying companies and private sector organisations.

Coroners Court of Queensland Annual Report

The Coroners Court of Queensland (CCQ) Annual Report 2021-22 was tabled in Parliament on 16 December 2022.

The Annual Report provided a summary of the CCQ’s work relating to domestic and family violence, deaths in care and deaths in custody. Case studies were shared on themes arising from public interest inquests, as well as the experiences of First Nations peoples. Responses to historic coronial recommendations were also considered.

Statistically, the State Coroner noted that during 2021-22, 6,044 deaths were reported to the CCQ for investigation, representing the highest volume of deaths lodged with the CCQ in its history. The CCQ had a clearance rate of 101.2% throughout 2021-22 meaning more cases were finalised than were lodged with the CCQ. The State Coroner also noted that “the increase in the number of deaths reported has arguably also contributed to a reduction in the number of inquests held […]. This reflects the reduced capacity of coroners to undertake more detailed work as they respond to increasing numbers of complex cases.”

Councillor Conduct Tribunal – Cr Dan Stewart of Gympie Regional Council

A public Facebook comment made by Councillor Dan Stewart of the Gympie Regional Council (GRC) was found to amount to misconduct by the Councillor Conduct Tribunal (CCT) on 12 December 2022.

The judgment, which relates to comments made on Facebook by Cr Stewart on 7 January 2022 about the departure of a staff member and a Settlement Deed that was entered into as a result, requires Cr Stewart to make a public admission as to his misconduct, complete training (at his own expense), and reimburse GRC for 25% of the costs incurred as a result of his misconduct.

The CCT ruled that “Cr Stewart knew, or should reasonably have known, that the existence of a formal agreement between the (staff member) and Council contained a confidentiality clause and was information that was confidential to council.”

In revealing the existence of a confidential agreement, Cr Stewart contravened section 171(3) of the Local Government Act 2009 (Qld). Cr Stewart also breached clause 6.1 of the Settlement Deed, which provided that “the existence and terms of this Deed are confidential”. Of particular note, the CCT indicated that this was the third time there had been misconduct findings against Cr Stewart in relation to confidential information he had released on Facebook.

Recent government appointments

Forensic Science Queensland’s interim advisory board

In the wake of the Commission of Inquiry into Forensic DNA Testing in Queensland, two appointments have been made to Forensic Science Queensland’s new interim advisory board. Retired judges Julie Dick SC and Walter Sofronoff KC will co-chair the interim advisory board, which is intended to provide accountability, transparency, and governance oversight to support Forensic Science Queensland. The board will include representation from a broad cross-section of criminal justice stakeholders including government agencies, legal and scientific professionals, and victim advocacy representatives.

Inspector of Detention Services

The Inspector of Detention Services Act 2022 (Qld) (IDS Act) received Royal Assent on 7 September 2022. Under the IDS Act, the Queensland Ombudsman will assume the new additional role of the Inspector of Detention Services (Inspector).

The IDS Act aims to improve detention services with a focus on promoting and upholding the humane treatment of detainees and the prevention of harm. Several parts of the IDS Act commenced by proclamation on 9 December 2022, supporting the appointment of the Inspector and providing the Queensland Ombudsman with a period to undertake establishment activities, including hiring staff, before commencing operations.

The focus of the Inspector will the prevention of harm rather than responding to complaints when harm occurs. This preventative focus will examine the systems and the lived experiences of people detained.

The functions of the Inspector under the IDS Act include:

  • inspecting places of detention in Queensland, including youth detention centres, adult prisons and watch-houses
  • preparing and publishing standards for inspections
  • reporting to parliament on inspection visits and making recommendations for improvement.

The Inspector must have regard to the cultural background and vulnerability of detainees when carrying out the above functions.

Deputy Chairperson of the CCC

Kathryn McMillan KC has been appointed Deputy Chairperson of the CCC for a five-year term.

Integrity Commissioner

As foreshadowed in the October 2022 Corruption and Integrity Update, Linda Waugh has been appointed as Queensland’s new Integrity Commissioner for a five-year term. She commenced in the role on 14 December 2022.

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Authored by: 

Angela Szczepanski, Director
Daniel Maroske, Director

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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