This month’s edition of the Queensland Corruption and Integrity Update examines the Parliamentary Crime and Corruption Committee Public Report, recent decisions of the Councillor Conduct Tribunal, and developments arising from the Queensland Ombudsman.
The Parliamentary Crime and Corruption Committee (PCCC) held a public meeting on 2 May 2023 for the discussion of the Crime and Corruption Commission’s (CCC) activities for the period 1 January to 31 March 2023, as detailed in the CCC’s Public Report (the Report).
Year-to-date highlights in the corruption and integrity space set out in the Report include the assessment of 2,412 complaints of suspected corruption (against 2,955 complaints received), one day of hearings relating to a corruption investigation, and the finalisation of 23 corruption investigations.
The Report also provided an update on the CCC’s focus on corruption involving improper influence. Within the reporting period, only eight complaints (approximately 1%) were received in relation to improper influence, however complaints relating to this area account for approximately 18% of current investigations. Abuse of authority and exploitation of public sector resources also remains a key focus of the CCC, with a series of investigations having been dealt with by units of public administration throughout the period. Of the completed investigations into abuse of authority, approximately 50% of matters were founds to have been not substantiated.
On 12 May 2023 the Councillor Conduct Tribunal (CCT) released its decision and reasons relating to former Councillor at a First Nations Shire Council (Shire Council). The matter concerned an allegation of misconduct as defined in section 176(3)(b)(ii) of the Local Government Act 2009 (the Act), for failure to declare a personal interest in a matter as required by section 175E(2) of the Act.
By way of background, the Shire Council paid a contribution to the funeral expenses of a Councillor’s cousin. At the ordinary Shire Council meeting where the payment was approved, the Councill attended the meeting and failed to declare a personal interest in the resolution as required by section 175E(2) of the Act.
The CCT ultimately determined that the allegations could not be substantiated. The evidence provided that the reimbursement of funeral expenses was a common occurrence within the Shire Council, and the CCT therefore found that the Councillor had no greater personal interest in the matter than others in the community. Despite not making a finding of misconduct, the CCT cautioned against reliance on the decision as encouraging the concealment of relationships, given the decision had regard to the specific intricacies of First Nations local government, and the relationships with the community they serve.
On 15 May 2023, the CCT released its decision and reasons regarding the conduct of Councillor Brett Qualischefski of Lockyer Valley Regional Council (LVRC).
The CCT held that on the balance of probabilities Councillor Qualischefski engaged in misconduct as defined under section 150L(1)(b)(i) of the Act. As a result of his conduct, he contravened section 12(3)(b) of the Act in that he failed to provide high quality leadership. Furthermore, he failed to comply with the local government principle of ‘ethical and legal behaviour of councillors’ pursuant to section 4(2)(e) of the Act.
The allegations raised against Councillor Qualischefski included that he:
By agreement dated 13 January 2023, the Councillor accepted the facts, allegations of misconduct and the particulars of the conducted. Following an expedited hearing, the CCT found that the Councillor conducted himself in a manner that was unacceptable and inappropriate, and that on the balance of probabilities the Councillor engaged in misconduct and a breach of the trust placed in him as an elected official.
Taking into account that Councillor Qualischefski had no previous disciplinary history, demonstrated early co-operation with the CCT and apologised for his conduct, the CCT ordered that he be reprimanded, attend counselling sessions within 90 days, and reimburse LVRC $2,000 in relation to costs within 90 days.
The Queensland Ombudsman recently published the 2023 Casebook detailing tips and strategies for agencies to improve their internal decision-making and administrative processes.
The Ombudsman recommends agencies implement the following three measures:
On 1 June 2023, the Legal Affairs and Safety Committee held a public hearing into its oversight of the Queensland Ombudsman. During the hearing, the Ombudsman, Mr Anthony Reilly, referred to the Coaldrake Report and its recommendations as a driver of change for the Office of the Queensland Ombudsman. Since the publication of the Coaldrake Report, the Office has been working towards implementing its recommendations, and more widely the Ombudsman and the Deputy Ombudsman, Ms Angela Pyke, are both part of the Integrity Reform Stakeholder Reference Group.
The Ombudsman also referred statistics contained in its Annual Reports where it is evident that demand for the services of the Ombudsman is increasing. For example, most recently, 7,845 contacts were received in the first three-quarters of the reporting period, representing an increase of 1,144 when compared to the same period in the previous financial year.
Finally, the Ombudsman noted the Office’s role in the review of the Public Interest Disclosure Act and referenced the late 2021 self-assessment report that was administered, ultimately showing continued improvement by agencies in PID management, such as the appointment of a PID coordinator and having a published PID procedure. The Ombudsman’s office has continued to create educational materials and training regarding PIDs, with significant resources dedicated into PID awareness, and accountability and transparency issues.
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Daniel Maroske, Director, Brisbane
Angela Szczepanski, Director, Brisbane
Anna Fanelli, Senior Associate, Brisbane