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Workload, budget pressures as state pays a high price for integrity

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Integrity Commissioner Nikola Stepanov has spoken of the pressure during a private meeting with the heads of other oversight bodies.

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At a meeting of the multi-agency integrity committee just before the election campaign, Stepanov said the burgeoning lobbying industry had brought a ten-fold increase in requests to her office for advice.

“This means staffing and resourcing to meet sustained demand across the functions of the Integrity Commissioner has proven to be the most difficult aspect of the work that we do,” Stepanov said, according to recently published minutes of the meeting.

“Additionally, we still have the usual administrative and operational requirements of any other office, including preparing the Annual Report, etc.”

It is not the first time Stepanov has raised such concerns. In her 2019-20 annual report, Stepanov revealed she had received some 342 requests for advice during the year.

“Sustaining a high quality and effective service, with a very small staff, in the face of extraordinary demand is the primary issue that I face on a day-to-day basis,” Stepanov wrote.

Any money left over last year was returned to consolidated revenue, as was the case for other oversight bodies. The 2020-21 State Budget was delayed, and will be handed down by Treasurer Cameron Dick on December 1.

There are more than 100 lobbying firms in Queensland and more than 300 individual lobbyists. Ironically, some private companies still pay the Labor Party to gain access to government figures at ‘business observer’ sessions.

During the campaign, then Liberal National Party leader Deb Frecklington sought to highlight various integrity issues that had arisen for the Palaszczuk government last term. In response, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said none of the issues resulted in a finding of corruption.

The Crime and Corruption Commission, meanwhile, has complained of having to be funded by the government, asking a parliamentary committee to recommended reforms that would “avoid (the) possibility or perception of political interference by appropriation from Parliament”.

“This would strengthen the CCC’s independence, and is consistent with the approach adopted, or advocated in other jurisdictions,” the CCC argued in its submission to a routine inquiry of its activities.

The State Budget will be followed by Estimates Committee hearings that will provide new LNP leader David Crisafulli and his team with an opportunity to scrutinise Palaszczuk, Dick and other ministers.

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