Government ‘embraces’ Coaldrake’s take on culture and accountability in the QPS

By Melissa Coade

June 29, 2022

Peter Coaldrake
Professor Peter Coaldrake has published his review into the QLD public service. (AAP Image/Alan Porritt)

Influence issues have dominated the Queensland Public Sector review published by Peter Coaldrake, which has considered the ‘integrity patchwork’ of state agencies spanning the auditor general, ombud, information and integrity commissioners, as well as the Crime and Corruption Commission. 

In his report, the man charged with leading the review said the undertaking was in response to ‘widespread disaffection’ with the performance of governments, politicians and their officials. Coaldrake said the intention of the overall system review was to open government processes to the public gaze and interrogate barriers to acting in the public interest.

“This review was prompted by a number of issues, some publicly ventilated, which together paint the picture of an integrity system under stress trying to keep check on a culture that, from the top down, is not meeting public expectations,” Coaldrake said, alluding to concerns over former integrity commissioner Nikola Stepanov and calls for her office to become an independent unit

“The core of the system is its people who, overwhelmingly, seek to do a good job for the community they serve,” he added. 

Queensland premier Annastasia Palaszczuk accepted the report’s 14 recommendations and indicated she wanted to see reforms follow.

“I would not have asked Professor Coaldrake to conduct this review if I did not want reform.

“We will accept all of his recommendations and we will implement them lock, stock and barrel,” Palaszczuk said. 

“Once they’re implemented, Queensland will have the most transparent and accountable government in Australia,” the premier added. 

The review was informed by more than 320 submissions and 100 consultation meetings. 

Coaldrake said he examined the condition of the government ‘machinery overall as well as the effectiveness of the moving parts of an apparatus’, that has developed in the more than 30 years since the Fitzgerald Inquiry.

A major recommendation of the review is to create a more accessible way for people to navigate through a system that is currently ‘too reliant on investigations rather than education’.

“There are good reasons, from the public’s perspective, for a dispersed system of integrity agencies,” Coaldrake said. 

“Constant attention is needed to keep it functional for purpose, understandable to the citizen who might use it and the managers who guide it.”

“This necessarily changes some agencies’ functions but, more importantly, will require behavioural change. That is also a much better option than to create additional integrity agencies.”

While integrity agencies formed part of a larger QPS whole, Coaldrake used the analogy of a traffic control system to say these bodies represented a way to ensure citizens could be confident their needs were being fairly addressed.

“​​The uneven approach of the various organisations, the turf wars over jurisdiction and valid questions about effectiveness can undermine that sense of fairness,” he said, also noting the importance of culture in building public trust in government.

The review stressed leaders at all levels — including the premier of the day, ministers, MPs, directors-general and senior executives — set a tone for which success relied upon. It also said the report had been produced in direct response to the right tone failing to reach the required pitch.

“Whether that ‘tone’ be in the form of modelling behaviour, policy ambition and encouraging a contest of ideas, supporting the community in times of crisis, or the manner in which authority is exercised and the voice of the public heard,” Coaldrake said. 

“Any good government, clear in purpose and open and accountable in approach, should have fewer integrity issues.”

The review also considered the cumulative effects of reduced public sector capability (accelerated by what Coaldrake described as an ‘overreliance on external contractors and consultants’), and a culture that was too tolerant of bullying, and allergic to frank and fearless advice.

A QPS culture that was ‘unwilling to give life to unfashionable points of view and dominated by the occupational hazard of all governments, short-term political thinking’ had a paralysing effect, Coaldrake observed. This also served to turn young talent away from a public service career.

“Investing in good people and supporting them with an integrity system that enables a fair workplace committed to quality outcomes will help to rebuild the nobility of public service,” he said. 

Professor Coaldrake, who is the chief commissioner of the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA), previously led the state’s Public Sector Management Commission in the 1990s.

An interim report published in April flagged Queensland’s ‘integrity patchwork’, the intersection of culture and integrity in the public service, and issues around capability, ministerial staff and lobbying.

Queensland’s cabinet will receive Coaldrake’s report on Monday, with the premier indicating work on the sweeping reforms would begin ‘lock, stock and barrel’.

As previously reported in The Mandarin, the state government announced additional changes to lobbyist laws earlier this week to expand the definition of a lobbyist and make the ministerial chief of staff the first point of contact for lobbyists. 


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