Queensland Corruption and Integrity Update – July 2023

9 August 2023
Daniel Maroske, Partner, Brisbane

This month’s edition of the Corruption and Integrity Update considers the release of the report of the Honourable Alan Wilson KC into his Review of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2010, the latest from the CCC on its corruption strategy and guidance for the public sector, details from the Integrity and Other Legislation Amendment Bill, and a recap following the Oversight of the Office of the Information Commissioner Public Hearing.

Review of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2010 

After much anticipation, the Queensland Government has publicly released the Report into the Review of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2010 (PID Act Review Report). The PID Act Review Report is over 300 pages in length and contains 107 recommendations. Perhaps most notably, the PID Act Review Report observes that ‘the necessary improvements to the legislation are of such significance and number as to call for a brand new Act‘. An expanded reach, a higher threshold to meet the definition of a PID, better support and protections, and better oversight are also included within the recommendations.

The Gadens submission to the Review was one of 64 received by the Review and is reference throughout the PID Act Review Report. The Queensland Government has indicated it is considering the recommendations.

A detailed review of the PID Act Review Report will be prepared by Gadens and will be accompanied with an on-demand webinar discussing the recommendations.

Crime and Corruption Commission

Corruption Strategy 2023-2027

In addition to its recently reported Strategic Plan, the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) has recently published its Corruption Strategy for 2023-2027. The Corruption Strategy identifies the CCC’s areas of focus over the next four years, including ensuring Queenslanders have confidence in the CCC’s work and the successful transformation of the CCC’s operations and processes.

The CCC’s priorities over the next two years focus on the use of data and technology to strengthen integrity and reduce corruption. The CCC aims to implement a Data and Insights Plan to enhance the collection, use and sharing of data, as well as improving accessibility and transparency of its complaints process. The CCC is also planning to invest more resources to optimise the use of the Corruption Allegations Data Dashboard to better inform the public sector about corruption risk.

Corruption in Focus

On 26 June 2023, the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) released an updated Corruption in Focus publication, being its guide to dealing with corrupt conduct in the Queensland public sector.

Those familiar with the publication will be aware that the guide has been designed for use within the public sector, and sets out practical advice and strategies on a range of topics including:

  • obligations of public officials;
  • managing a referral from the CCC;
  • conducting an investigation; and
  • reducing the incidence of corruption in the public sector.

The updated June 2023 version is said to include the more recent changes to the Crime and Corruption Act 2001 (Qld), including those made to sections 15 and 40A of the Act.

Integrity and Other Legislation Amendment Bill Public Briefing

Following the introduction of the Integrity and Other Legislation Amendment Bill (the Bill) last month, the Queensland Government held a public briefing on 10 July 2023. The purpose of the briefing was to assist the Economics and Governance Committee with its examination of the legislation.

The Deputy Commissioner of the Queensland Public Sector Commission, Ms Jenny Lang, noted that the Bill seeks to address four of the recommendations of the Coaldrake Report:

  • Recommendation 1 – strengthening the independence of the position of the Auditor-General;
  • Recommendation 3 – strengthening lobbying regulation and introducing a prohibition on dual hatting;
  • Recommendation 12 – enhancing the independence of the five core integrity bodies through the involvement of parliamentary committees in setting their budgets, contributing to key appointments and the tabling of annual reports; and
  • Recommendation 13 – providing the Ombudsman with authority to investigate complaints against private organisations carrying out functions on behalf of the government.

The Bill also implements seven of the recommendations from the Yearbury strategic review report:

  • recommendation 9 – clarifying the term ‘lobbyist’;
  • recommendation 10 – confirming that statutory officers are responsible for reporting unregistered lobbying;
  • recommendation 12 – allowing the Integrity Commissioner to request meeting records and other information from government and opposition representatives;
  • recommendation 13 – enabling the Integrity Commissioner to seek an explanation or issue a direction without first having to issue a show cause notice;
  • recommendation 14 – enabling the Integrity Commissioner to warn lobbyists for alleged misconduct without reference to the Crime and Corruption Commission; and
  • recommendation 18 – enabling the Integrity Commissioner to issue directives concerning the application of policies as circumstances require.

Ms Lang indicated that targeted consultation and engagement with the Integrity Reform Stakeholder Reference Group was undertaken throughout the drafting of the Bill, with amendments to the drafting made to accommodate concerns that were raised by stakeholders.

Of relevance, was the discussion regarding recommendation 1 of the Coaldrake Report, where it was concluded that it could not be wholly implemented, as doing so could potentially be unconstitutional. Specifically, the Executive Director of the Integrity Reform Taskforce, Ms Welch, noted that amendment of section 20 of the Constitution of Queensland would be required in order for the budgets of integrity bodies and the Auditor-General to be aligned with the budget of the Legislative Assembly.

Additionally, Ms Welch raised the proposed implementation of training requirements for lobbyists and provisions permitting the Integrity Commissioner to approve and require training programs. Presently, the Integrity Commissioner only has the power to provide a show cause notice, being a heavy-handed approach for disciplinary concerns such as failure to complete required training. The Bill introduces additional powers to the Integrity Commissioner to allow the Commissioner to provide notice for training to be completed, or request further information, prior to the issuing of a show cause notice.

A public hearing is expected to take place on 11 August, with the final reporting deadline 1 September 2023.

Oversight of the Office of the Information Commissioner Public Hearing

On 13 July 2023, the Legal Affairs and Safety Committee held a public hearing on the Oversight of the Office of the Information Commissioner. During the hearing, Ms Rachael Rangihaeata, the Information Commissioner, Ms Stephanie Winson, the Right to Information Commissioner, and Mr Paxton Booth, the Privacy Commissioner, provided an update on the work of the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) over the course of the last twelve months.

Ms Rangihaeata highlighted the findings of the 2022 strategic review of the OIC, which found the OIC was efficient and effective across its functions, despite constrained resources, reiterating statements made in the 2021-2022 annual report that ‘OIC was not in a position to manage any additional demand on its services.’

Mr Booth emphasised the significant privacy changes and data breaches over the course of the last twelve months, and the importance of the implementation of the Coaldrake recommendation regarding a mandatory data breach scheme in Queensland. Mr Booth highlighted that the OIC’s key metrics improved over the course of the last year, noting that the mean average days to finalise accepted privacy complaints was down from 278 days to 257, and that 69 complaints were received during the reporting year, a decrease from the 81 received the year prior. COVID-19 remained a significant issue for the OIC in the reporting period, particularly as it related to a significant number of requests for advice relating to complaints around the collection of personal information and vaccination status.

Ms Winson set out some of the key themes for the OIC from the 2021-2022 year, noting that demand for external review remained high, with 606 applications received, and a decrease in the mean average days for external reviews to be finalised, from 155 to 139 days. In the relevant period, 59% of external review applications related to departments, 15% related to local government, with 83% of all external requests from journalists.

Recruitment in the Corruption and Integrity Space

In addition to recently seeking new Councillor Conduct Tribunal (CCT) members, the State Development, Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning department is currently seeking to appoint a new President of the CCT, and to appoint the Independent Assessor. The CCT President will lead the CCT, which investigates the suspected inappropriate conduct of a councillor referred to the local government by the Independent Assessor, and makes recommendations to the local government about dealing with the conduct. The Independent Assessor leads the Office of the Independent Assessor and the system for addressing complaints about councillor conduct.

Deputy Integrity Commissioner Appointed

On 4 August 2023, Lesley Symons was appointed as the inaugural Deputy Integrity Commissioner. This position was established in accordance with recommendations made by Mr Kevin Yearbury in the 2021 Strategic Review of the Queensland Integrity Commissioner. The newly-appointed Deputy Commissioner will be responsible for the management of lobbying regulation under the Act and is set to play a leadership role in the office of the Queensland Integrity Commissioner.

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Authored by:
Daniel Maroske, Partner
Angela Szczepanski, Director
Anna Fanelli, Senior Associate
Georgia Bloxham, Graduate
Max Drummond, 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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