Queensland’s former archivist, Mike Summerell, claims he was “directed to create misleading annual reports to parliament”, prompting premier Annastacia Palaszczuk to direct the state’s top public servant to consider the matter.
But the premier said the state’s archivist was “not an independent statutory authority” and questioned why he hadn’t raised the concerns — which stem back to 2018 — at the time.
Summerell says he did raise the concerns, which began after he drafted an annual report in 2018 and the director-general of the Department of Housing and Public informed him that the perceived independence of the archivist role was “no longer valid”.
Summerell said the comment followed his draft annual report referencing work he did surrounding Labor MP Mark Bailey’s use of a personal email address to conduct public business.
The state’s watchdog had cleared Bailey of corrupt conduct months earlier while supporting recommendations from Summerell for the creation, maintenance and disposal of public records.
Summerell says he was “pressured to remove [from the annual report] essentially any content which could be perceived [as negative]” concerning the Bailey matter, including costs, recommendations, and improvements to the Public Records Act.
“It became a completely misleading document … and intentionally so,” Summerell said in a statement that News Corp’s Courier Mail published in full.
“I expressed dismay at this interference and made it clear I considered it a breach of the Act, and given the nature of the material being removed a potential breach of the code of conduct.
“There was an extensive email trail highlighting my concerns.”
He claims his frank assessments in a subsequent annual report were also amended. “In 2018-19 there is no statement by me at all in the final version of the annual report that was tabled,” Summerell said.
He took issue with some public servants believing it was “their job to make the annual report make the government look good”, while acknowledging he felt “ashamed” the renewal of his contract had been one factor in him not pushing back more.
“I have no doubt the changes made to my statements in the annual reports of those years were driven by political interest being placed above the public interest,” Summerell, who left office in 2021 after his contract was not extended, said.
Palaszczuk said at a press conference on Tuesday the Department of Premier and Cabinet director-general Rachel Hunter would “look into” the matter.
“If these were of such concern to him at the time, why were [the allegations] not made at the time as well,” the premier said.
She said Queensland’s Crime and Corruption Commission was available to investigate serious misconduct allegations.
“Under the code of conduct there is an obligation to raise things with your director general or your supervisor,” she said.
“But also too, if there are serious allegations of misconduct, the right avenues for those matters to be investigated are the CCC.”
She encouraged public servants to be “frank and honest” and to speak up if they believed something was wrong.
Communities and housing minister Leeanne Enoch said the archivist did not report to the minister.
“The state archivist is appointed under the Public Service Act 2008 and reports to the deputy director-general and ultimately to the director-general of the department,” Enoch said in a statement.
“If the former state archivist has evidence he believes requires further investigation, he should provide it to the relevant authorities.”