The Queensland corruption watchdog has found a culture of corruption and bullying was allowed to fester for years at Ipswich City Council.
The Operation Windage report was tabled in parliament on Tuesday, finding Ipswich City Council’s culture was allowed to deteriorate to the point where corruption was no longer recognised.
“Significant governance failures and cultural issues that appear to have been occurring over many years and which would not have occurred in an environment in which the values of transparency, accountability and good governance were paramount,” the report said.
“Council policies and procedures were either not followed, or were ignored or circumvented, including by councillors and senior executive employees, resulting in the misuse of council funds and assets.”
To date, 15 people connected to council – including two former mayors and a former chief executive – have been charged with 86 criminal offences.
The report found a “very dominating senior figure” – combined with an inner circle of councillors and senior executives who had worked together for a long time – and weak policies allowed corruption to occur.
Officials used personal email accounts to get around right-to-information requests from journalists, and staff who raised corruption concerns were bullied and forced out.
The report recommends training all councillors across the state in corruption risks and switching council-controlled entities to public to bring them under the CCC’s jurisdiction.
Queensland’s Local Government Minister Stirling Hinchliffe said the report vindicates his decision to draft special legislation to sack the council.
“It concerns me greatly that honest, hard-working staff have been adversely impacted by this unacceptable behaviour along with local businesses and the Ipswich economy,” Mr Hinchliffe said in a statement.
“Staff who wanted to report corrupt behaviour feared losing their jobs or the prospect of having their careers ruined just for doing the right thing.”
But long-serving councillor Paul Tully, who has not been charged with any wrongdoing, said there was nothing new in the report.
“There is no smoking gun. There are no details in this report except unnamed people and allegations without any proof,” Cr Tully said.
“It’s nothing more than a rehash than what’s been reported in the media over the last 15 months.”
The minister said he would consider the four recommendations in the report:
- All councillors across the state to be trained in how to appropriately behave in their roles and what constitutes corrupt conduct.
- A minimum set of standards be developed to provide a framework for councils, going forward.
- Examine the need for councils to use controlled entities and that councils’ controlled entities should be reclassified to bring them within the oversight of the CCC and also subjecting them to the Right to Information Act.
- The use of private emails by councillors for official business be banned.