‘Talking to the choir’: Scope of Queensland review into public service raises concerns

By Jackson Graham

February 22, 2022

Queensland Integrity Commissioner Nikola Stepanov
Outgoing Queensland integrity commissioner Nikola Stepanov. (AAP Image/Dan Peled)

Queensland’s review into the culture and accountability of the state’s public service will not investigate individual complaints, instead looking at the overall system, according to the professor appointed to do it. 

The scope of the review has drawn criticism from key individuals whose roles contributed to Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announcing the inquiry on Friday. 

Outgoing integrity commissioner Nikola Stepanov, who has been central to a number of concerns including calling for her office to become an independent unit, welcomed the inquiry but said it should hear individual complaints. 

“In my view it is important that individuals be given the opportunity to be heard as part of the review process, and that they be able to so without fear of any repercussions,” she said in a statement

Former state archivist Mike Summerell, who has complained about interference in his annual report writing, echoed the concerns about whether complaints would be heard. 

“Without speaking to former public servants this inquiry will be meaningless. Simply ‘talking to the choir’ will not give you the reality of these issues,” Summerell said on Monday in a statement on LinkedIn. 

“If the inquiry is limited to existing senior public servants then the reality is that you are simply talking to those who have succeeded in this environment and are part of the problem or you are speaking to those who have a lot to fear if they do speak up against it.” 

Professor Peter Coaldrake, who is chief commissioner of the federal Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency and appointed by the Queensland government to lead the inquiry, clarified on Monday that he would not be investigating individual complaints, instead saying his role was to report on the overall system. 

“It is certainly for me to understand the problems that have been ventilated, that are being aired in the public arena,” Coaldrake told ABC Radio Brisbane. 

“My job is to examine the system … the effectiveness of the mechanisms of accountability, and the transparency and the culture of the public sector. My inquiry is not a complaints-driven inquiry.”

But he did not rule out speaking with Stepanov or Summerell as part of collecting information for his report to the government, due in four months. 

“I haven’t spoken to anyone yet, but I certainly would hope that each of those people will speak to me, amongst many others,” Coaldrake said. 

Coaldrake has also faced questions about his historic ties to the Labor Party and a donation he made in 2018. 

He has clarified that he has not been a member of the Labor Party for about four decades. “I attended either one or two branch meetings. And I decided that wasn’t sort of the place for me,” he told Brisbane radio station 4BC. 

Coaldrake also said the payment was $1760 for a table at the annual Queensland budget lunch in 2018 and he was in attendance because the government was announcing a new theatre for the Queensland Performing Arts Trust Board, which he chairs. 

“I thought it was very appropriate that we attend a lunch, but I also I also took the view that it was not appropriate for QPAT funds – in other words, any funds or that any suggested being public funds – to be used for that purpose. Therefore, I paid for the lunch personally,” he said.


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