Queensland Corruption and Integrity Update – June 2023

6 July 2023
Daniel Maroske, Partner, Brisbane

This month’s edition of the Queensland Corruption and Integrity Update considers the Integrity and Other Legislation Amendment Bill, the latest update from the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) regarding the progress towards the Coaldrake recommendations, recent CCT outcomes, an update on the PID Act review, and updates arising from the Office of the Independent Assessor public briefing.

Crime and Corruption Commission

Quarterly Report No. 3 on the implementation of Commission of Inquiry recommendations

Following our previous instalments, the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) has recently published its third quarterly report (Report No. 3) on the implementation and delivery of the 32 recommendations set out in the Coaldrake Report.

Report No. 3 suggests that for recommendations 1, 8, 12, 15, 17, 19, 20, 22, 23 and 30, the balance of the recommendations remain either ‘in progress’ or ‘noted but not yet commenced.’ By way of substantive update over the last quarter, the CCC notes that:

  • the draft Corruption Investigator Capability Framework is nearing completion
  • a new Investigating Monitoring function will be implemented in June 2023
  • the CCC’s updated Corruption Strategy will be published in July 2023; and
  • it has received positive feedback from the Office of the Department of Public Prosecutions on the policies and procedures that will guide the post-prosecution review process (if and when a suitable proceeding is finalised).

The CCC will continue to publish quarterly reports relating to the progress of the implementation and delivery of the 32 recommendations.

CCC Strategic Plan 2023-2027

On 30 June 2023 the CCC released its Strategic Plan for 2023-2027. The Strategic Plan identifies the key indicia identified by the CCC to measure its ongoing performance, including the percentage of corruption investigations resulting in significant outcomes, the corruption investigation clearance rate and the average cost per assessment of corrupt conduct.

The Plan also identifies mega trends expected to have an impact over the course of the next four years, including the rise of technology, climate change and sustainability, and geopolitical disruption, and strategic risks such as talent shortages, regulatory changes, and economic instability.

Public Interest Disclosure Act Review

The review of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2010 (Qld) (PID Act) conducted by The Honourable Alan Wilson KC has been completed, with the final report delivered to the Attorney-General and Minister for Justice and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence, the Honourable Yvette D’Ath MP on 19 June 2023.

While the final report has not yet been publicly released, the 64 public submissions received by the Review has been released. Submissions of note include:

  • Queensland Law Society (QLS): QLS supported further consideration of the scope of wrongdoing that attracts Public Interest Disclosure (PID) protection to provide public sector entities with greater certainty in determining the appropriate processes that are required. QLS also noted that any amendments should reflect the confidentiality obligations that are set out in the PID Act.
  • CCC: The CCC noted that reform should include the role of ethical standards unit and other investigators in supporting persons who make PIDs or who allege reprisal, and that civil remedies for PID reprisals should be reviewed to clarify the role of agencies in protecting persons making PIDs. The CCC also noted that consideration should be given to whether a government lawyer may make a PID in relation to information or documents which may be subject to legal professional privilege.
  • Queensland Police Service (QPS): QPS highlighted the complexities in managing complaints and proposed that the definition of ‘public officer’ in the PID Act be expanded to include volunteers, students, and work experience participants. Finally, QPS noted that greater emphasis on confidentiality and clarity around PID status disclosure is required.
  • Queensland Human Rights Commission (QHRC): QHRC highlighted that the scope of matters that can be subject of a PID is far too broad, particularly in circumstances where matters may be captured in other regulatory processes. QHRC also recommended that the definition of ‘public officer’ be expanded, and supported amendments to the PID Act to include specific examples to aid in the interpretation and application of the legislation.
  • Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ): LGAQ strongly recommended the establishment of an independent clearing house to review and assess all PIDs initially, and increased education, training, and resources relating to PIDs in the local government sector.
  • Office of the Independent Assessor (OIA): The OIA highlighted that inadequate resourcing and proper records, particularly in rural and remote councils, is a barrier to the investigation of PIDs, and recommended that the framework around PIDs should be flexible to reflect the need to reassess PID status of matters on an ongoing basis.
  • Queensland Health: The submission made by Queensland Health stated that consideration could be given to the introduction of penalties for inappropriate disclosure of information to journalists, particularly in circumstances where a government department is already taking action in relation to a matter.

Integrity and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2023

On 16 June 2023, the Integrity and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2023 (the Bill) was introduced into the Queensland Parliament.

The Bill represents the second key tranche of legislation to implement the Government’s response to recommendations from the Coaldrake Report as well as the Yearbury Report, both of which supported measures to encourage ethical lobbying.

The Explanatory Note provides that aim of the Bill is to:

  • increase regulation of lobbying activity to address the public perception of undue influence on governments
  • amend the conditions for registration as a lobbyist to reflect expectations around completing training and managing conflicts of interest
  • enhance the jurisdiction of the Queensland Ombudsman to consider complaints about, and initiate investigations of government services provided by non-government entities; and
  • establish the Office of the Queensland Integrity Commissioner as a statutory body.

The Economics and Governance Committee is inviting any interested parties to make submissions by 5pm on Friday 21 July.

Councillor Conduct Tribunal Updates

Appeal of Councillor Conduct Tribunal Decision

On 24 May 2023, the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) released its decision in the matter of Devlin v Councillor Conduct Tribunal and Anor [2023] QCAT 194.

By way of background, the CCT previously determined that three allegations relating to the applicant had been substantiated. The allegations suggested that the applicant had engaged in misconduct as defined in section 176(3)(b)(ii) of the Local Government Act 2009 (Qld). The applicant subsequently filed an application to review the decision of the CCT, and brought a corresponding application to stay the CCT’s decision until the determination of the substantive application had been made.

Having regard to section 22(4)(a) of the Queensland  Civil  and  Administrative  Tribunal  Act  2009 (Qld), the QCAT member determined that a compulsion on the application ‘to make an admission of misconduct  in circumstances  where  the  applicant  challenges  the  foundation  upon  which  such  an order has been made is a material matter, particularly given that it is at least strongly arguable that the making of an admission would not be remediable in the event that the review was ultimately successful.” Ultimately, QCAT ordered that the CCT decision be stayed in relation to two of the three allegations.

Sunshine Coast Regional Council

On 19 June 2023, the CCT released its summary of decision and reasons in a matter involving a councillor of Sunshine Coast Regional Council. The matter concerned allegations of misconduct relating to a possible breach of the trust placed in a councillor and the alleged influence or attempt to influence a local government employee in a matter contrary to section 175I(3) of the Local Government Act 2009 (Qld).

Having regard to the various fact the subject of the allegations, the CCT found that the relevant Councillor had appropriately disclosed all conflicts at the relevant times and that neither allegation could be substantiated. It was determined that the Councillor did not have the capacity to influence either the CEO or the relevant Council employees as alleged.

State Development and Regional Industries Committee – Office of the Independent Assessor Public Briefing

On 12 June 2023, the State Development and Regional Industries Committee held a public briefing for the oversight of the OIA. During the hearing, the Independent Assessor, Ms Kathleen Florian, provided an update on the work of the OIA and highlighted the significant progress made towards reducing the backlogs in resolving matters.

Ms Florian advised that the number of complaints received in the 2022-2023 financial year (856 at the date of the briefing), was consistent with complaint numbers in previous years. On average, 26% of all complaints made to the OIA are investigated as potential misconduct, with 4% referred to the CCT.

For the 2022-2023 financial year to the date of the briefing, the assessment team had assessed and communicated outcomes for 94% of all complaints within 21 working days, with investigators having reduced the average length of investigations to two months. The OIA had no investigation older than three months. Ms Florian advised that a key factor contributing to delays in investigations related to the time taken by parties to respond to requests for information or respond to notices, including requests for extensions and failure to provide responses by set deadlines.

Finally, backlogs and delays before the CCT and QCAT were flagged as an ongoing risk for the OIA, with Ms Florian noting that they had written to the department on 15 occasions to raise systemic issues, primarily relating to the need to build the capacity of councillors and councils to resolve matters independently of the CCT.

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Authored by:
Daniel Maroske, Director
Angela Szczepanski, Director
Anna Fanelli, Senior Associate
Georgia Bloxham, Graduate
Monica Baur, Paralegal
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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