Diane Merryfull has stood down as chief executive of the Tasmanian Integrity Commission, less than two months after inaugural integrity commissioner Murray Kellam finished his term and blasted the current and former governments on the way out.
The commission’s board issued a statement announcing “with regret” that Merryfull would finish up on October 16 and return to Canberra with the intention of retiring from full-time work.
The ABC reports she declined to say why she chose to retire with nearly two years to go in her five-year term. In comments to ABC television reporter Michael Atkin, however, she did refer broadly to the same inertia on both sides of politics that led Kellam to declare the TIC had “laboured under a manifestly inadequate legislative framework since the day it opened its doors” in his parting serve in August.
“There is resistance to change here; it’s quite significant,” she told Atkin. “But all we can do is continue to press for the change and by our work show why it needs to be made.”
One of the main gripes Kellam and Merryfull had was that misuse of public office has never been made a criminal offence in Tasmania, despite it being a crucial measure recommended by the same report that led to the establishment of the TIC.
They have both argued multiple times since the commission’s inception for that and other amendments to provide the TIC with the legislative framework that would allow it to fulfil its remit. Those requests went nowhere under both the current and former governments, despite in-principle support from the Joint Standing Committee on Integrity.
The current government has not only failed to fix the gaps in the framework, but moved to cut back the commission’s powers and strip it of $20 million in funding. Merryfull told an inquiry into the TIC in 2014:
“It is clear now to us that the Government is not interested in a review of the Commission, it is interested in dismantling the Commission.”
The TIC board paid tribute to Merryfull’s time at the head of the embattled watchdog, which is yet to find acceptance among Tasmanian politicians and bureaucrats:
“Under her leadership, the Commission has established itself as an essential and respected contributor to an ethical and accountable Tasmanian public sector. The Commission is conducting high quality and important investigations and producing well regarded misconduct education and prevention tools. It has skilled staff who are making a difference to the standard of ethics and integrity in public authorities and giving the public confidence that misconduct will be dealt with appropriately.”
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A recent TIC report on policies around public servants receiving gifts and benefits in the course of their work caused friction with Department of Premier and Cabinet secretary Greg Johannes.
Merryfull also told the ABC she thought public servants had been surprised by how effective the commission had been and how seriously it had taken its job:
“Often when I speak to senior people across the public sector I don’t think they expected that the Integrity Commission would be as public and as resolute in pursuing its agenda as it has been.”