The letter below from Jackie Trad, Deputy Premier of Queensland, was received by Tim Smith and David Solomon in response to our request for all party commitments on openness and transparency and the principles of “Public Trust”.

It follows from the letter received by ART from letter from Annastacia Palaszczuk, QLD Premier.


Hon Tim Smith QC
Chair Accountability Round Table

Mr David Solomon

Dear Mr Smith
Thank you for your letter of 16 November 2017 kindly forwarded to the Premier by Mr David Solomon. I am pleased that the Premier’s letter of 26 October 2017 was able to provide information about the Palaszczuk Government’s actions during the 55th Parliament in strengthening the integrity of Queensland’s system of government and the progress it has made.

Your letter also requests a response to certain matters you feel require further attention of government, and the policy commitments required from the parties seeking election at the upcoming election.

I thank you for your comprehensive document which provides a background to your request. I trust the information contained below assists you in understanding the commitment that a re-elected Palaszczuk government will make to furthering accountability, transparency and integrity in Queensland.

• They support all the established independent integrity mechanisms and institutions (such as the judiciary, CCC, Ombudsman, Integrity Commissioner, Auditor General, the DPP, the Information Commissioner, an effective Parliamentary Committee system.)

Judiciary
The Palaszczuk government is committed to the independence of the integrity mechanisms and institutions we have in Queensland. The independence of the judiciary is a cornerstone of our system of Government, one of the three arms of government in a Westminster democracy, and is fundamental to upholding the rule of law.
Labor recognises that, whilst courts should exercise their powers independently of the other arms of government, it is the role, in fact it is the duty, of executive government to appoint the judiciary. This arises from the duty of the executive to promote the rule of law through the appointment of a highly skilled and independent judiciary.

Confidence in the expertise, independence and impartiality of the judiciary is essential to the proper functioning of government. The Queensland Government considers that the public would only share the confidence in the selection and appointment of members of the judiciary if the process were seen to be transparent and genuinely consultative.
Accordingly, in its first term, the Palaszczuk Government committed to reviewing the process for the appointment of Judicial Officers in Queensland.

As you are aware, a discussion paper was released on 15 October 2015 to generate debate and enable consultation about the appointment process. Consultation on the issue included consideration of models for judicial appointments both here and overseas, options for suitable reform in Queensland, and the selection criteria and processes that might be used. Submissions were received from the public and various legal stakeholders.

You would also be aware the Attorney-General released a protocol for the permanent appointment of judicial offices to the Magistrates, District and Supreme Courts following consultation with the heads of jurisdiction, Queensland Law Society and Bar Association of Queensland. Subsequently, the Judicial Appointments Advisory Panel was established.

Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC)
You would also be aware of the significant amendments made by the Palaszczuk government during the 55th Parliament to restore the independence of Queensland’s corruption watchdog, the CCC, following amendments made during the previous term of government.

These include:

  • commencing new recruitment processes immediately for the Chair and CEO of the anti-corruption watchdog under the new appointment arrangements providing a new independent head
  • ensuring that the CEO is not a commissioned officer under the Act and that there is bipartisan support of the Parliamentary Crime and Corruption Committee (PCCC) for the CEO appointment
  • limiting temporary appointments for the Chair, Commissioners and CEO of the anti-corruption watchdog to three months, unless there is bipartisan support
  • enabling anonymous complaints to be made to the anti-corruption watchdog by removing the requirement under the Crime and Corruption Act 2001 for complaints to the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) to be by statutory declaration
  • amending the Crime and Corruption Act 2001 to reinstate the watchdog’s critical prevention function and remove the requirement for Ministerial approval for a research plan developed pursuant to the research function. Ensure the prevention function is properly staffed and resourced to undertake this work and ensure the preventive advice extends to local government and universities
  • requiring bipartisan support for the appointment of a non-government Chair to the parliamentary committee overseeing the anti-corruption watchdog.

The Palaszczuk Government’s commitment to the independence of the CCC is evident from the extensive work undertaken to ensure the integrity of the legislative framework underpinning the organisation.

Ombudsman
Under the Ombudsman Act 2001, a strategic review of the office must be conducted at least every seven years. The Governor-in-Council appoints the reviewer as per the agreed terms of reference. The last Queensland Ombudsman Strategic Review Report was tabled in parliament on 17 May 2012. A further review of the Office of the Ombudsman is scheduled to be conducted during the next term of government.

A re-elected Palaszczuk government will undertake the review with a view to identifying areas where there is capacity to strengthen the office. However, in light of the necessary independence of the office, the Ombudsman is responsible for implementing any recommendations made as a result of the review.

Integrity Commissioner
Section 86 of the Integrity Act 2009 requires that a strategic review of the office be completed within 4 years of the commencement of that section. Section 86(8) states that the review should include a review of the commissioner’s functions.

The strategic review of the office was not commenced by the previous government, despite being required under the legislation, but was officially commenced in early 2015 after the swearing-in of the Palaszczuk government. The final report was tabled in Parliament in July 2015.

Amendments recommended in that review to extend the authority of the Integrity Commissioner to provide advice to former designated persons for a period of two years after they leave that position were contained in the Guardianship and Administration and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2017 was introduced on 5 September 2017, and lapsed when the Parliament was prorogued. A re-elected Palaszczuk government will reintroduce these amendments.

Auditor-General
The Queensland Audit Office is one of the state’s oldest organisations and is an integral part of Queensland’s system of government.
The first Auditor-General was appointed in 1860. Since then, legislation about financial accountability in the public sector has been introduced and updated in response to changes in the public sector and Queenslanders’ needs for increased accountability and transparency in government.
A Labor government will continue to respond to the recommendations of the Auditor-General, and work with the Audit Office to ensure the legislation that underpins the organisation continues to meet its purpose of promoting accountability and transparency in government, and improving service efficiency and effectiveness.

Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP)
The independence of the DPP is integral to maintaining a fair and just criminal justice system. Decisions to prosecute or not to prosecute in the superior courts must be made independently and be seen to be made independently. That means that they are made free from direction of any Minister or any police officer or, for that matter, any alleged victim. The Palaszczuk government is committed to this ideal of independence of the prosecutorial arm of government.

Information Commissioner
In a similar vein, the role of the Information Commissioner and of the Right-to-Information process in Queensland  must remain independent. The work undertaken by the previous Labor government to bring about more openness in access to government information following the review undertaken by Mr David Solomon in 2008 saw a move to a “push” model, with greater proactive and routine release of information, new right to information and privacy legislation and maximum disclosure of non-personal information.

Upon election in 2015, the Premier issued a direction that all Right-to-Information applications received by Ministers must be processed by staff in their Department, and appropriate delegations were made to ensure this took place. A review of the Right to Information Act 2009 was commenced in 2011 then, following the election of the Newman-Nicholls Government in 2012, work stalled. Two discussion papers were released for public comment in 2013, however there was considerable concern for the future of right-to-information processes in Queensland after the then-Attorney-General, Jarrod Bleije MP, who was conducting the review, would not rule out the abolition of the RTI Act.

Following the election of the Palaszczuk Government, a further consultation paper was released in 2016 to assist the review. Sixty-nine submissions were received in response to the 2016 consultation paper from government agencies, community organisations, individuals, corporations and media representatives; highlighting the importance of public debate and consultation in relation to right to information and information privacy related issues.

The review has now been completed and a copy of the review report was tabled in Parliament by the Honourable Yvette D’Ath MP, Attorney-General and Minister for Justice and Minister for Training and Skills on 12 October 2017.

Parliamentary Committee System
While strong during the 19th century, the Queensland Parliament’s committee system fell into decline during the course of the 20th century following the abolition of the Legislative Council. The parliamentary committee system began to revitalise in the 1980s, and continue to grow in the following two decades. However, it wasn’t until 2011 that significant reform of the parliamentary committee system occurred as a result of the inquiry by the Committee System Review Committee (CSRC), which was a select committee established in 2010. The recommendations of the CSRC resulted in the committee system as it currently stands today.

In 2015, an inquiry into the the Parliament’s committee system was referred to the Committee of the Legislative Assembly (CLA). The inquiry was established following an inquiry by the Finance and Administration Committee (FAC), which recommended a Bill and referendum for a fixed-four year term of Parliament.

The FAC was of the view that the likelihood of a referendum to introduce a fixed-four year term succeeding would be improved if the Parliament could demonstrate a commitment to greater accountability and transparency. The FAC recommended that the Parliament enhance the accountability mechanism by entrenching the role of committees.

The CLA supported statutory recognition of the Committee system, and that the appropriate legislation to contain the relevant provisions is the Constitution of Queensland Act 2001. The Palaszczuk Government then made amendments to the Constitution of Queensland to require that the Legislative Assembly ensures that each Bill, unless declared urgent, be referred to a committee for examination for at least 6 weeks.

It is worth noting that only one substantive Bill has been declared urgent since 2015. By way of contrast, during the Newman-Nicholls Government, legislation was frequently progressed through the Parliament with little or no meaningful consultation with legal stakeholders. During 2012-14, 18 Bills were not referred to a Parliamentary Committee for consideration.

• If they have any proposals to strengthen integrity mechanisms and institutions to realize the Fitzgerald principles.

In particular
a. Do they support changes to the ministerial code of conduct to bring it into line with the Commonwealth requirement that “Ministers are expected to be honest in the conduct of public office and take all reasonable steps to ensure that they do not mislead the public or the Parliament. It is a Minister’s personal responsibility to ensure that any error or misconception in relation to such a matter is corrected or clarified, as soon as practicable and in a manner appropriate to the issues and interests involved.”

The Ministerial Code of Conduct provides a framework for the observance of accountability and integrity measures by Ministers of the government.

Ministers are also responsible individually to Parliament. Ministers have a duty to Parliament to account, and be held to account, for the policies, decisions and actions of themselves and their departments and agencies. Ministers must give accurate and truthful information, and correct any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity. Ministers must not knowingly mislead Parliament.

You have recommended that a particular paragraph from the Commonwealth’s Standards of Ministerial Ethics be added. The Premier has already indicated that she will issue a new set of ministerial guidelines around the use of communications platforms. This will involve a review of the Ministerial Code of Conduct to ensure that it adequately addresses the expectations of Queenslanders as far as the conduct of their Ministers is concerned.

As part of that review, Codes of Conduct applying to Ministers in other Australian jurisdictions will be considered, and the final document will be informed by concepts and obligations that apply elsewhere but as they are suited to our particular jurisdiction. There are a number of obligations contained in that Standards of Ministerial Ethics which could have application in Queensland.

b. Do they believe that Ministers should accept responsibility for the actions and activities of their personal ministerial staff [and, if not, how do they intend to ensure accountability rather than
plausible deniability

Ministers are bound by the Code of Conduct of Ethical Standards of the Parliament and should also observe ethics values set out in the Public Sector Ethics Act 1994 that apply to the Queensland Public Sector.

In exercising their discretionary powers in the execution of their public duties, Ministers must comply with the Ministerial Code of Conduct. Ministers must also comply with the requirements of the Register of Members’ Interests, and the Register of Members’ Related Persons Interests, held by the Clerk of the Parliament. Any other pecuniary or other interests of the Minister or Minister’s related persons that might affect the Minister’s responsibilities must be declared to the Premier.

Similarly, ministerial staff members are required to comply with the Code of Conduct Ministerial Staff Members. As employees of the Department of Premier and Cabinet, they are also bound by the Code of Conduct for the Queensland Public Service.

Staff employed in ministerial offices must also ensure their private interests do not conflict with, or are not seen to be in conflict with, the discharge of their official duties. Section 24 of the Ministerial and Other Office Holder Staff Act 2010 requires Ministerial staff members to submit a Declaration of Interests form to their Minister within one month of commencing employment as a Ministerial staff member, within one month of the change of the Minister, and whenever there is a change to the Ministerial staff member’s interests.

Importantly, conduct of the staff of ministerial offices comes within the jurisdiction of the CCC. If there is any question that staff have acted improperly, their conduct can be referred to the CCC for investigation. Following the CMC’s “Inquiry into Interaction Between Government Ministers, Ministerial staff and Public Servants”, the then-Labor government committed to the provision of clear direction to all CEOs and senior executives regarding their interactions with Ministerial staff, so as to ensure there is a consistent understanding across the sector about the conduct expected of public servants in their interactions with Ministerial offices.

When elected, the Palaszczuk government committed to undertake a merit-based selection process for ministerial staff. This process was conducted through advertisements on seek.com and candidates were interviewed and appointed on the basis of merit.

Training is provided to staff of ministerial offices in matters of ethics, integrity and accountability by the Department of Premier and Cabinet. There is a very real expectation that staff will act ethically in all circumstances. Of course there will be occasions when individual staff fail to meet the very high standards expected of them, however there are ample measures in place through the various codes of conduct.

Ministerial staff are expected to comply with the stringent codes of conduct and legislation and their contracts of employment which govern their conduct in the exercise of their duties, including interactions with public servants.

Having put in place these protections, the Palaszczuk government firmly believes that staff employed in ministerial offices are, and should be, responsible for their own conduct, and that penalties and processes are in place to appropriately deal with any departure from appropriate conduct. Where a Minister has allowed or turned a blind eye to such conduct, this is already captured in the Codes of Conduct that apply to Ministers.

Labor is committed to integrity in government, in Parliament and in the public sector, and will continue to monitor any developments that might evidence a need for additional measures to protect that integrity.

c. Do they have any other proposals for strengthening integrity mechanisms and institutions in ways that would more effectively realise the Fitzgerald principles?

Following the release by the CCC of its Report Operation Belcarra: Reforming local government in Queensland, the Queensland government committed to a range of measures that would see the most substantial reform of the local government sector in Queensland’s history.

In tabling its response to the Belcara Report, the government endorsed all recommendations in the report, supporting some in full and others in principle.

Labor has committed to ensuring that legislative change addressing Belcarra recommendations is properly scrutinised through the committee process. That is why the Palaszczuk government has committed to banning donations from property developers to candidates in local council elections. However, most importantly, when it comes to political donations we will not introduce measures on local government that we do not apply to ourselves, so the changes will also apply to candidates in state elections.

But we didn’t wait until the legislation is passed. The State Secretary of the Labor Party advised the Premier that, following receipt of the CCC’s Report, the party has stopped accepting donations from property developers.

The Bill containing those amendments was introduced into the Parliament, but lapsed when the Parliament was prorogued. A re-elected Palaszczuk government will reintroduce those measures.

This strengthens the accountability measures already implemented by the Palaszczuk government in relation to political donations. The first Bill introduced in the 55th Parliament was a Bill to return the political donation threshold to $1000, after the Newman—Nicholls Government raised it to $12,800.

Following extensive work by the Attorney-General, with a system developed by the Electoral Commission of Queensland, Australia’s first real-time electronic donation disclosure system went live in February this year, leading the way in how political donations should be disclosed by governments in Australia.

The Palaszczuk Government’s commitment to transparency is in sharp contrast to the LNP’s approach to donations.

The LNP dramatically raised the donation threshold when they were in power, potentially hiding millions of dollars of political donations from the public. It should be noted that Labor voluntarily chose to continue disclosing donations $1000 and above through those dark days.

The Palaszczuk government is committed to accountability, transparency and integrity in government. When gaps have been exposed in the integrity framework in Queensland, we have acted swiftly to fill those gaps and ensure that governments are able to be held accountable to the Queensland people. This has been our commitment, and it rem ins our commitment to the people of Queensland.

JACKIE TRAD
DEPUTY PREMIER
Minister for Transport and
Minister for Infrastructure and Planning