The Premier says she didn’t ask the head of Queensland’s corruption watchdog to step down, a day after his shock resignation following a damning parliamentary committee inquiry and a string of failed court cases.
Crime and Corruption Commission chairman Alan MacSporran QC will officially finish in the role on Friday, with the potential for an overhaul of the CCC hanging over his successor.
The calls for Mr MacSporran to resign had intensified in recent days.
At a press conference on Wednesday, where she delivered the day’s COVID-19 case tally, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk was asked: “Did you ask Alan MacSporran to stand aside?”
Her answer: “No.”
This was followed by: “Do you think you dragged out the situation by not commenting publicly about the [Parliamentary Crime and Corruption Committee report]?”
Her answer: “No, because it’s a very serious report, and I said very clearly that our Cabinet will be considering that before Parliament returns.”
Cabinet will next week discuss recommendations of the parliamentary committee’s review of the CCC’s actions in the failed prosecution of seven Logan councillors.
The recommendations include a review of the CCC’s ability to appoint the chair, commissioners or other senior officers for fixed terms, and that the fixed-term length should be reduced from 10 to seven years.
The review also suggested the PCCC be afforded greater input into the hiring of the CCC’s chairs and commissioners. The LNP Opposition has long demanded the appointments have bipartisan support.
Speaking further about Mr MacSporran’s resignation, Ms Palaszczuk said the public could have confidence in the state’s corruption watchdog.
She acknowledged the PCCC report was critical of the CCC and said her government was giving its contents and recommendations “careful consideration”.
“The government’s response is due in March, so we’re well within our time frames. But this is, you know, a serious matter,” Ms Palaszczuk said.
“The Attorney-General will begin the recruitment process for a replacement.
“There is a recommendation as part of the PCCC to have a structural review into the CCC, and cabinet will be giving that careful consideration.
“Cabinet will be carefully considering the [PCCC] report before Parliament goes back, and I’ve given that guarantee to the people of Queensland.”
Mr MacSporran announced his resignation on Tuesday afternoon in a statement on the CCC website. He acknowledged he had lost the support of the parliamentary committee that oversees the CCC.
“Despite a career spanning in excess of 40 years, where my honesty and integrity have never been questioned, it is clear to me that the relationship between myself and the PCCC has broken down irretrievably. This saddens me deeply,” he said.
State Opposition Leader David Crisafulli said the Premier didn’t understand how damaging the criticism had been for the CCC and Queensland’s reputation.
“We have now had two resignations of the key crime-fighting and oversight bodies in this state. Something is drastically wrong with integrity and accountability in Queensland,” he said.
“For two months, we have been consistently saying the position of the CCC chair is untenable, and that is not a reflection on the individual, that’s just having absorbed the magnitude of the report, which shows the culture and structure of the place needs a complete overhaul.”
Last Thursday, charges against former Moreton Bay mayor Allan Sutherland, laid by the CCC in December 2019, were dropped by the Director of Public Prosecutions in Brisbane Magistrates Court.
An ongoing PCCC inquiry into the unsuccessful prosecution of seven Logan councillors had previously criticised the actions of Mr MacSporran and the CCC.
Queensland integrity commissioner’s laptop wiped
The Queensland premier is being urged to explain why the integrity commissioner’s laptop was allegedly seized and wiped without permission.
Dr Nikola Stepanov, who maintains the register of lobbyists and provides politicians with confidential integrity advice, announced her resignation last week midway through a three-year term.
Her decision comes with the Crime and Corruption Commission reportedly probing a complaint Dr Stepanov made against the Public Service Commission for seizing the laptop and wiping the device.
“The contents were subsequently deleted without my knowledge or consent,” Dr Stepanov told The Australian on Tuesday.
“Explain what was on laptop’
LNP leader David Crisafulli called on Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and PSC chief executive Robert Setter to explain what was on the laptop.
“This isn’t the sort of behaviour that you see in a thriving democracy,” he told reporters.
“This is the kind of behaviour you see in places … overseas when we see it in China and Russia.”
Mr Crisafulli said the parliamentary economics and governance committee had held private hearings into the matter.
He said the minutes remain “under lock and key”, but he called for them to be published.
AAP has sought comment from the committee.
Mr Crisafulli said if Ms Palaszczuk, Mr Setter and the committee remained silent there would need to be a “full-blown inquiry”.
The PSC also allegedly altered security permissions and access to the integrity commissioner’s offices, News Corp reported in September 2021.
Ms Palaszczuk dismissed parts of that report as “speculation”, but referred it to the CCC and has since refused to comment on the matter.
Staff cut from four to one
In October, Dr Stepanov revealed her staff had been cut from four to one in her 2020-21 annual report.
The commissioner wrote that she was “very concerned” about illegal lobbying after a surge in recorded contacts between the state Labor government and lobbyists.
Ms Palaszczuk on Monday played down Dr Stepanov’s resignation, saying she was taking another position and would stay in her role until July.
The head of the agency reportedly investigating the laptop matter, CCC chairperson Alan MacSporran, on Tuesday resigned.
Mr MacSporran said his relationship with the watchdog’s parliamentary oversight committee had “broken down irretrievably”.
Cabinet is yet to respond to a report into the watchdog’s bungled probe into Logan Council, which recommended the CCC be reformed.
Ms Palaszczuk brushed off a question on Monday about how the public would perceive the situation.
“I don’t think they would think anything of it, people change jobs all the time,” she told reporters.
Dr Stepanov’s office said she would release a statement about her resignation late on Monday, but she later decided not to.
Mr Crisafulli said what began as an “accountability binfire” was now a “integrity inferno” because of the hubris of the government.
“Every time somebody dares question the premier and questions the government, their life becomes very uncomfortable,” the LNP leader said on Tuesday.
“That’s the sort of behaviour that governments experience when they stop listening. It smells a lot like a third term government that’s just given up caring about transparency.”
Queensland corruption watchdog boss Alan MacSporran quit of his own accord
Says Premier Palaszczuk
The shock resignation of Queensland’s corruption watchdog boss was not forced by government, despite the embattled position coming under intense criticism.
The recently-resigned boss of Queensland’s embattled corruption watchdog quit of his own accord – and was not forced out the door – despite facing intense criticism in a damning report last month.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk on Wednesday said the shock resignation of Alan MacSporran QC, the head of the state’s Crime and Corruption Commission, was a ‘serious’ choice made of his own volition, and one that would hopefully maintain the public’s confidence in the organisation.
“This is, you know, a serious matter. It’s a serious decision and it’s a decision that he has made that is up to him,” Ms Palaszczuk told media in Townsville.
“I think the public wants to have absolute confidence in the anti corruption watchdog in this state.”
Mr MacSporran resigned abruptly from the independent body on Tuesday evening, seven weeks after it was savaged in a report by the Parliamentary Crime and Corruption Committee.
Among other things, the report accused Mr MacSporran of failing to ensure the CCC acted independently and impartially in its handling of an investigation into Logan City Council.
The CCC’s prosecution of eight Logan councillors failed spectacularly last year when fraud charges were discontinued.
The organisation was again left red-faced again last week when charges of misconduct against ex-Moreton Bay mayor Allan Sutherland were dropped without him being committed for trial.
The December 2 report did not ask Mr MacSporran to resign, but PCCC chair and Scenic Rim MP Jon Krause did recommend a commission of inquiry into the CCC for its actions.
In stepping down, Mr MacSporran on Tuesday said he had never let “extraneous irrelevant considerations enter my thinking about a decision relating to the proper exercising of powers in proceedings as a Queen’s Counsel criminal barrister or as CCC Chairperson”.
“Many people have urged me to continue in this important role, despite the recent finding contained in the report of the parliamentary crime and corruption committee,” Mr MacSporran said in a statement.
“However, I find myself in a position where, despite a career spanning in excess of 40 years, where my honesty and integrity have never been questioned, it is clear to me that the relationship between myself and the PCCC has broken down irretrievably. This saddens me deeply.”
A search is currently underway for Mr MacSporran’s replacement.
Meanwhile, Ms Palaszczuk on Wednesday said government was still considering its response to the PCCC report.
“Cabinet will be carefully considering the report that was done by the parliamentary committee before Parliament goes back,” she said.
A response is due in March.
Mr MacSporran had been chair of the CCC since 2015.
His exit came a couple of days after the resignation of Queensland integrity commissioner Nicola Stepanov amid concerns the public services commission had interfered with her office.
By Alex Druce
‘Took no action’
Annastacia Palaszczuk and department criticised for response to ‘bitch on a witch-hunt’ slur
The Queensland premier had told public servants Nikola Stepanov and Robert Setter to ‘get back to work and get on with it’
Queensland’s integrity commissioner says the premier’s department took no further action after a top public servant rejected her plea for mediation over his alleged behaviour towards her.
The state’s integrity commissioner, Dr Nikola Stepanov, became upset when she told a parliamentary committee on Monday that the Public Service Commission chief executive, Robert Setter, allegedly described her as a “bitch on a witch-hunt” during a 2018 phone call.
Setter denies the claim, saying he’s “appalled and saddened” by the accusation.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk suggested the pair “could sit in a room” and sort the matter out.
Stepanov said on Tuesday that she asked the premier’s department for mediation with Setter on March 8, 2021.
The integrity commissioner said Setter refused the request later that day via email and the premier’s department has taken no further action.
“The current Director-General, Ms Rachel Hunter was aware of my request for mediation shortly after the time it was made, and was also aware of Mr Setter’s response,” Stepanov told AAP in a statement.
“I have had no further contact regarding mediation.”
Palaszczuk said she couldn’t confirm or deny if Stepanov had made complaints about Mr Setter for legal reasons.
“If a public interest disclosure has been made, then those matters cannot be discussed because by their nature they are a public interest disclosure,” she told parliament on Tuesday.
Palaszczuk told reporters on Monday evening the pair needed some perspective about their spat.
“These are two very senior public servants and they should get back to work and sort their issues out,” she told reporters. “There are people out there who have been flooded, who have lost their homes, lost their livelihoods.
“The last thing they want to see is two senior public servants having a brawl – get back to work and get on with it.”
Palaszczuk’s comments were heavily criticised by the LNP Opposition during parliamentary Question Time on Tuesday.
“Can the premier explain to anyone who has been the victim of misogynistic comments why they should just get in a room with a bully and sort it out?” the opposition leader, David Crisafulli, said.
Palaszczuk said she had been suggesting that a workplace mediator could become involved in the spat.
“I don’t think anyone should be called names,” she said.
The drama began when Stepanov was asked by a parliamentary committee if she could confirm reports about the slur.
“I do confirm that I have had comments of that nature, including said to me,” she said. “I support a modern public service where women and men, particularly those emerging as leaders, are not subjected to those kinds of gender-based slurs.”
Stepanov identified Setter as the person who made the remark to her in a phone call.
Setter later held a rare press conference but didn’t field questions.
“I am appalled and saddened at what the Integrity Commissioner under parliamentary privilege claimed I said to her in 2018,” he said. “I am appalled because it is not behaviour that I consider appropriate, ever.
“I deny absolutely making any misogynistic comments to or about the Integrity Commissioner at any time.”
Palaszczuk said she wasn’t aware of the slur but told the pair to sort it out, even if they “sit in a room and have a full and frank discussion”.
“I don’t think anyone should be called names,” she said. “Everyone should be respectful to one another.
“But I am not going to get into this argy-bargy. I am not getting into a ‘he said, she said’.”
The premier added that she fully supported both bureaucrats.
But Palaszczuk said Stepanov would be finishing up in July, despite the integrity boss claiming on Monday that she wanted to remain until the end of 2022.
Stepanov gave notice in January that she would depart halfway through her second term in July.
But she told the parliamentary committee she had written to the premier saying she should stay until December due to a state corruption watchdog investigation.
The Crime and Corruption Commission is investigating multiple complaints made by the integrity boss including an allegation that the PSC seized a laptop from her office and wiped it in March 2021.
Asked about Stepanov staying on, the premier said: “Dr Stepanov tendered her resignation.
“We sought legal advice and the advice was that it was an effective resignation.”
Annastacia Palaszczuk taps Tony Fitzgerald to head inquiry into Queensland corruption watchdog
Decades after his landmark corruption inquiry led to the downfall of Joh Bjelke-Petersen, Fitzgerald will investigate the state’s CCC
More than 30 years since the Fitzgerald Inquiry exposed widespread graft and misconduct in Queensland, the state has again turned to Tony Fitzgerald to run an inquiry into its under-fire corruption watchdog, the Crime and Corruption Commission.
In the past week, Annastacia Palaszczuk’s government has come under increasing pressure to agree to an inquiry as accusations emerged of an “integrity crisis” caused by a series of apparently unrelated events – the resignation of the Queensland integrity commissioner amid concerns about interference with her office; the resignation of CCC chair Alan MacSporran; and criticism by the former state archivist about political interference. The LNP opposition had called for “Fitzgerald 2.0”.
A commission of inquiry into the CCC had been a recommendation of its parliamentary oversight body, after hearings into the CCC’s handling of abandoned charges against eight Logan councillors found it had breached its duty to remain independent and impartial.
Some in the local government sector have subsequently claimed the CCC is “out of control” and should be shorn of powers.
The premier said on Monday that cabinet had agreed to an inquiry into the CCC and had turned to the one person, above all others, who could bring the process serious credibility.
Fitzgerald, 80, will chair the inquiry alongside retired supreme court judge Alan Wilson.
Palaszczuk said she admired Fitzgerald for the way his 1980s inquiry, which exposed corruption during the latter years of National party government, had shaped modern Queensland.
The former premier, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, resigned amid Fitzgerald’s initial inquiry. Three former National party ministers and the police commissioner, Terry Lewis, were jailed as a result. Lewis was also stripped of his knighthood.
More than 30 years on, the inquiry is still the major touchstone on corruption issues.
“It is clear a review of the CCC is needed,” Palaszczuk said.
“Who better than Tony Fitzgerald to conduct it?”
“No one can argue about Tony Fitzgerald’s independence. To do its job, the public must have absolute confidence in the CCC and this commission of inquiry.”
Among the matters that Fitzgerald and Wilson will investigate is the role of seconded police officers to the CCC; something that had been of concern prior to more recent events.
Opposition leader David Crisafulli said the inquiry should be more wide-ranging than simply the CCC.
“Queenslanders are smarter than this and won’t have the wool pulled over their eyes,” he said.
“Anything short of a full royal commission into the widespread systemic integrity issues ripping through the Queensland Government is a cop out.”
“Attempts to hose down the CCC bin fire completely ignores the integrity inferno burning through the heart of the government. The state government’s integrity crisis is so much bigger than the announcement we have seen today.”
By Ben Smee