Annastacia Palaszczuk has been slapped with another wake-up call after a scathing report into the culture and accountability of her government’s public sector was handed down.
The Queensland Premier vowed to implement all recommendations after a four-month review into the integrity of the state’s public service uncovered a culture ‘too tolerant of bullying and dominated by the occupational hazard of all governments, short-term political thinking’.
The latest headache for the embattled state leader comes after insiders claimed she had ‘checked out’ from her role and was more interested in socialising and being on the red carpet.
Public administrator and academic Professor Peter Coaldrake warned the only way to restore public faith in the government was to be ‘more accountable and transparent … and behave with integrity’ when he handed down his 131-page report on Tuesday.
Annastacia Palaszczuk (pictured with her boyfriend Dr Reza Adib at the Logies) has been hit with another crisis following the release of a damning review of the state’s public sector
He made 14 recommendations including reigning in the access and influence of lobbyists – including an explicit ban on ‘dual hatting’ of professional lobbyists during election campaigns.
‘They can either lobby or provide professional political advice but cannot do both,’ Prof Coaldrake said.
He also unearthed allegations of bullying and belittling of public sector officials by staff in ministerial offices and more senior bureaucrats.
‘Public service officials can feel pressured, sometimes by ministerial staff, sometimes by more senior officers, to moderate advice developed with a ‘public interest’ goal in mind, to fit with a perceived ministerial preference – which may or may not be real – or to avoid giving advice on difficult issues in writing,’ Professor Coaldrake said.
‘Personal interactions with some ministers and ministerial staff, and indeed some senior officers, can be disrespectful, belittling or bullying, and [cause] long-term detriment to careers real or apprehended.
‘If unreasonable deadlines, bullying interactions, and intemperate demands for action or for compliant advice become pervasive, a fear-based response becomes entrenched in the culture.
‘It puts the organisation itself at risk.’
Titled ‘Let the sunshine in’, the review called for a strengthened framework surrounding ministers, their staff and senior public service officers to be continually reviewed and reinforced.
Annastacia Palaszczuk (pictured in parliament last week) vowed to implement the integrity recommendations ‘lock, stock and barrel’
The report urged for Queensland’s auditor-general to be granted more independence and given broader scope to monitor the departmental use of consultants and contractors.
It also called for a ‘single clearing house’ to track and streamline the progress and outcome of complaints, as well as pushing for greater protections for whistleblowers and the mandatory reporting of data breaches.
The recommendations included that the ombudsman be able to investigate complaints against private organisations carrying out functions on behalf of the government, and for public service bosses to be given five-year contracts, unaligned to the electoral cycle.
‘This review aspires to influence a cultural shift which encourages openness from the top, starting with cabinet processes and a resulting shared focus on identifying and dealing with the challenges Queensland faces,’ Prof Coaldrake said.
‘Any good government, clear in purpose and open and accountable in approach, should have fewer integrity issues.
‘It is now up to the government to make this focus a wake-up call to support for a more open system of government.’
Premier Palaszczuk welcomed the report, which will go to Cabinet next week and promised Queensland will have the most transparent and accountable government in Australia when the recommendations are adopted.
‘We will accept all of his recommendations and we will implement them lock, stock and barrel,’ she said.
‘I would not have asked Professor Coaldrake to conduct this review if I did not want reform.’
The Queensland Premier (pictured with her partner on the red carpet earlier this month) has also been forced to deny claims from insiders she’s had ‘checked out’ from her role
But not everyone embraced the report.
Opposition leader David Crisafulli described the review as ‘laughable’ and will continue campaigning for a royal commission into government integrity.
‘It doesn’t address the integrity inferno at the heart of the corruption risk that is the Palaszczuk government,’ he said.
‘Nothing short of a royal commission will fix the integrity issues that are burning through the state government.’
Sky News editor Peter Gleeson says a dark cloud still remains over integrity in the Sunshine State.
‘Peter Coaldrake had a great opportunity to call for a royal commission, to get to the bottom of the dysfunctionality of the public sector in Queensland. Instead, he’s just rolled the arm over,’ Mr Gleeson told Sky News host Chris Kenny on Tuesday night.
‘He actually identified in the report … that the culture within the public service is too tolerant to bullying and that is the result of short-term political thinking.’
‘That in itself is damning enough, but then the report and the recommendations are just throwing the arm over.
‘I think it’s incredibly disappointing. There will be a lot of disappointed people today.’
Queensland opposition leader David Crisafulli will continue campaigning for a royal commission into government integrity.
Premier Palaszczuk pre-empted several of the report’s key recommendations on Monday by tightening of regulations surrounding lobbyists and their level of access.
Anyone working for a lobbying firm would be deemed a lobbyist, and only be allowed to contact a minister’s chief of staff. All meeting requests must be made in writing.
Lobbyists will no longer be allowed to write ‘other’ in the official register as the subject of meetings with ministers.
‘If you are working for a lobbying firm and you may be called an adviser, a consultant, a communication specialist, you will now be deemed to be a lobbyist,’ Ms Palaszcuk said.
‘Secondly lobbyists will only be able to make contact through the chief of staff in a minister’s office.’
Last week, Labor insiders claimed Ms Palaszczuk has ‘checked out’ of her role and showed more interest in attending social events than running Queensland.
The claims prompted former premier Peter Beattie to urged her to start a new agenda and prove she still wants to be premier.
‘You’ve got to keep renewing your vision, because if you don’t, you get stale and people see you’re stale and they will want someone else to have a go,’ he told Courier Mail.
Ms Palaszczuk hit back by insisting she was on top of her workload – and visiting high-profile events was ‘part of her job’.
‘I work seven days a week,’ Ms Palaszczuk told 7News while on the red carpet at the Logies.
‘I’ve got a budget coming down, I’m across that, and I’ll be back at my desk first thing tomorrow morning.
‘And most of these events are on weekends so, we could be at home watching television but we’re out here doing the job Queenslanders expect me to be doing.’