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Government brings out legal big guns to fight Barbagallo bullying complaint

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The State Government will use Crown lawyers to respond to claims of infighting and bullying within the office of Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.

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A former senior policy adviser in the Premier’s office has taken action in the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission claiming he was sidelined after clashes with David Barbagallo and other staff.

The man, a Labor campaign worker, cannot be named as one of his contentions is that he is entitled to, but been denied, protections as a whistleblower.

In documents filed in the QIRC, the man claimed to have been on the outer after clashing with Barbagallo, who was Palaszczuk’s powerful chief-of-staff until he left amid an integrity investigation.

The man has also filed excerpts of transcripts of his interviews with the Crime and Corruption Commission over the Barbagallo case, which extend to discussions of his relationship with current staff in the Premier’s office.

After Barbagallo left, the man claims he complained in February 2020 to the Premier’s new chief-of-staff, Jim Murphy, having struggled to find secure employment in another ministerial office.

“I indicated in that phone call that I believed I was terminated as a result of raising with the then Chief-Of-Staff David Barbagallo (his) share ownership in a company called Fortress Capstone and how I believed he could not own shares in this company because it had received a government grant,” the man claimed.

The man claimed to have asked questions of Barbagallo, only to be told it was “none of his business”. He also claimed to have been given the taxpayer-funded role of keeping government focussed on the election campaign.

After taking his grievances to the QIRC, the man expressed concern the government was intending to use Crown law to fight the case, and potentially call witnesses from within government to give evidence against him.

But the government successfully argued Crown law was needed given the “serious allegations” and nature of the case, even if the man ends up representing himself. While the government would prefer to have the case dismissed, Crown law was best-placed to deal with the “complex questions of fact”.

“There are disputed facts in the proceedings, including but not limited to whether there is any actual or impending detriment to the Applicant in his employment,” Crown lawyer Sara McRostie wrote in an affidavit.

The man also worked for other ministers and represented the government on an overseas trade mission.

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 – issues the man raises in his QIRC complaint – 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.

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