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Sorry, not sorry: Premier won't be apologising for office misconduct probe

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Annastacia Palaszczuk will not accept she misled parliament, let alone apologise for it, and is distancing herself from the David Barbagallo probes.

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Two days after the Crime and Corruption Commission reported on allegations surrounding Palaszczuk’s former chief of staff, the Premier has sought to defend her integrity and her efforts to keep the probes into Barbagallo independent.

The CCC investigated whether Barbagallo misused his position in order for Fortress Capstone, a company in which he was a shareholder and director, to benefit from $267,000 in state funding for a cruise shipping app.

While Barbagallo supported the company’s decision to seek government funding, the CCC found he had no direct involvement in the application or investment pitch, although his name and role were mentioned.

The CCC ultimately concluded there was no evidence that Barbagallo had misused his position to secure the funds, or that there was undue influence in the government decision to invest. But the corruption watchdog was highly critical of the failure to properly manage his conflict of interest and found Palaszczuk had misled parliament when she said Barbagallo had completed his declarations and sought advice from the Integrity Commissioner.

The CCC found Barbagallo would have faced discplinary action had he not already resigned.

It has since emerged that an EY audit commissioned by the Department of Premier and Cabinet gave warning of the conflicts issue in September last year – shortly before Barbagallo left the office – and made recommendations to improve integrity in government.

But Palaszczuk today insisted she “never” asked to see the audit, and her director-general, Dave Stewart, forwarded it directly to the CCC. She bristled at questions about her knowledge of the audit.

“I was not given the (EY audit) report, it was forwarded to the CCC,” Palaszczuk said, adding that it would have been “completely inappropriate” for her to even read it.

The CCC even sent the audit to the Queensland Audit Office before deciding to progress to the feasibility stage of an investigation. Today, Palaszczuk claimed it was the existence of a CCC investigation that warranted the EY audit being forwarded on without her becoming involved, even though the CCC made clear it was only assessing the matter at the time it received the audit.

While Palaszczuk has previously said she had no role in appointing EY, she also told parliament it was appropriate that “we” do an audit – which she expected to find no wrong-doing – yet today insisted “it’s not my document”.

In its report, the CCC made a point of mentioning that Barbagallo had partly amended his declaration of interests around the time the EY audit was finalised and before his departure from the Premier’s office.

“The timing of Barbagallo submitting this declaration coincided with the Department of the Premier and Cabinet receiving EY’s internal audit report into the process of Fortress Capstone receiving co-investment funding from the AQBD Fund and Barbagallo commencing leave on 20 September 2019 prior to him finishing in the role of the Premier’s Chief of Staff on 15 October 2019,” it reported.

Asked if she regretted giving Barbagallo a public endorsement soon after, when she insisted he was not leaving her office because of anything untoward, Palaszczuk said “that was my understanding at the time”. She later agreed he had misled her but would not go so far as to criticise him.

Barbagallo had reportedly given notice of his intention to resign in June 2019, although Palaszczuk today suggested he left “because he was unwell”. She said she did not understand questions about whether she, as Barbagallo’s employer, had an obligation to act on the EY audit earlier, saying only that a re-elected Labor government would implement the CCC recommendations.

Despite convention dictating that even unintentionally misleading statements to parliament be clarified, normally with an apology, Palaszczuk again insisted she had not misled parliament, would not apologise, and that the CCC report clarified the issue.

Even though the CCC report stated that Barbagallo reported to her, Palaszczuk said “the chief of staff is responsible for running the day-to-day office,” other staff handled declarations of interests, and her director-general deliberately bypassed her with the EY audit. It is a structure that seemingly allows the Premier to remain at arm’s-length from such matters.

“I will always take responsibility for what happens, not only in my office but for government as well,” Palaszczuk claimed.

The Labor Government partly supported, but did not follow through on, CCC proposals that the media be banned from reporting on corruption and misconduct complaints.

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