Queensland’s public servants have become fearful of providing frank and fearless advice to the government because of the “high price” paid by some who do, according to the man who led a landmark review of the sector.
Prof Peter Coaldrake handed down his 131-page report on Tuesday, citing a “culture too tolerant of bullying” and making 14 recommendations, including reining in the access and influence of lobbyists.
Speaking to ABC radio on Wednesday morning, Coaldrake said the public service needed to feel comfortable standing up to politicians.
“The general message that came through … is … that the benefits of that frankness are outweighed by the potential risks associated with people not being happy or taking action against you or isolating you,” he said.
“There are unhealthy things that are present.”
Coaldrake’s “Let the Sunshine In” report provided recommendations “for a culture that, from the top down, is not meeting public expectations”.
Its author told ABC there were no “quick” fixes to solve integrity issues and emphasized the concerns were not unique to Queensland.
He said there needs to be a “cultural shift” towards accepting the community has “a right to know what’s going on inside government”.
“For the vast bulk of things, there is no need for that shield of secrecy,” he said. “And as I said, I think the sun should shine in.”
The report recommends that Queensland’s auditor general be granted more independence and an explicit ban on “dual hatting,” where professional lobbyists have also worked on party election campaigns.
The report called for cabinet submissions, agendas, and decision papers to be released and published online within 30 business days instead of waiting ten years.
The premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, has committed to implementing all 14 recommendations “lock, stock and barrel”.
But the LNP and the Greens call for a royal commission to ensure people are held accountable for past actions.
The LNP opposition leader, David Crisafulli, said the review revealed a “rotten culture” but had been limited by Coaldrake being prevented from investigating any individual accusations.
“A royal commission will hold people accountable,” Crisafulli said. “This review identifies several crimes but doesn’t point to a culprit.”
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After handing down the report, he questioned the premier’s decision not to front the media on Wednesday morning immediately.
“Until there is accountability in government, the state government will continue to see this as a political issue rather than a transparency and governance issue,” Crisafulli said.
The Greens MP for Maiwar, Michael Berkman, accused the government of a “piecemeal” approach to integrity issues.
“Given only four months to conduct this review behind closed doors … Coaldrake’s findings just reinforce the public’s mistrust of this government and demonstrate how political interference corrupts the good work of our public service,” he said.
“Everyday people will continue to distrust their government unless we have a wide-ranging commission of inquiry with public hearings.”
Queensland’s attorney general, Shannon Fentiman, said while she was aware that bullying complaints were made “from time to time”, the extent of the findings was a surprise.
“Like any review … you learn things, and we have said it’s unacceptable,” she told 4BC radio Brisbane on Wednesday.
The health minister, Yvette D’Ath, urged politicians against “attacking public servants, whether behind closed doors, or open in public at press conferences, or in the chamber in parliament”.
“Public servants should be acknowledged for their great work,” she said on Wednesday. “And there should be processes to ensure they’re respected, and there is a good culture.”
On Twitter, Palaszczuk said the report would go to the cabinet on Monday.
“Once they’re implemented, Queensland will have the most transparent and accountable government in Australia,” she said.