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Queensland premier to follow integrity advice

QLD integrity
Annastacia Palaszczuk says she will call a commission of inquiry into her government if recommended. Photo: AAP
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Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has promised to order a commission of inquiry into her government’s integrity if the Coaldrake review recommends it.

Professor Peter Coaldrake’s review of government accountability and integrity has found that lobbying is widespread, is escalating and lacks proper regulation.

His interim report last week said the state’s lobbyist register “is not doing the job which was intended”, and found evidence of politicisation in the public service and ministerial staffer “overreach”.

The government has so far rejected calls for a commission of inquiry into those concerns, but Ms Palaszczuk says she will order a formal probe if Prof Coaldrake recommends it.

“I’m going to wait until I see the final report,” the premier told reporters on Thursday.

“If he made those recommendations, we would accept those recommendations.”

Prof Coaldrake noted there were 988 recorded meetings between registered lobbyists and government ministers or officials in 2020/21, four times the average annual amount over the previous nine years.

However, the report warned that actual lobbying contacts could be up to fives times higher than the figure recorded due to a rise in unregulated lobbying.

“The lobbyist register is not doing the job which was intended,” Prof Coaldrake wrote.

He also said lobbying activity was legitimate as long as its purpose and frequency was understood and disclosed, where possible.

The Palaszczuk government was being lobbied by Anacta Strategies before and after the 2020 state election, during which two executives worked on the Labor campaign.

“This can leave the public sceptical about even the strongest protections against conflict,” the Coaldrake report said.

Ms Palaszczuk insisted the lobbying code of conduct was strict, but said some guidelines could be tightened if needed.

“He did actually talk about the legitimacy of actually having our lobbyists as well so, so let’s not dismiss that,” the premier said.

“And guess what, there’s going to be a final report coming down, so let’s wait for that final report.”

The review heard unnamed ministers and senior public servants had skirted accountability, while unqualified ministerial staffers were “overreaching”.

In one case a director-general had prevented a report from “reaching the minister’s ears” so the minister could deny knowing about it.

Although review submissions were confidential, Ms Palaszczuk said she was open to Prof Coaldrake outing that person.

“If at some stage he would like to talk to my director-general about who that is, I’m quite sure that they will be counselled,” she said.

Prof Coaldrake also raised concerns about some ministerial staffers, many of whom had no experience outside university politics, directing public servants.

The premier defended the experience of staffers, saying they come from a diverse range of backgrounds, even those fresh out of university.

“Some people could say that all journalists just come through a training school then are journalists and don’t have life experience, and I hope that’s definitely not the case there as well,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

Prof Coaldrake’s review would consider whether steps were needed to ensure the ministerial code of conduct “has teeth and is observed”.

His final report is due to be released in June.

– AAP