Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and two of her ministers flagged “no half measures” would be taken in the efforts to restore the tattered forensic lab’s reputation in the wake of irregular testing procedures of DNA samples that could have potentially undermined thousands of criminal investigations dating back as far as 2008.
The testing debacle sparked a commission of inquiry led by retired judge Walter Sofronoff, who delivered his report on Tuesday describing the findings as “deeply disturbing and troubling”.
Palaszczuk said all 123 of Sofronoff’s recommendations would be implemented in full, starting “from today”.
Immediate action on the repair job will start with an initial outlay of $95 million to establish a new framework to drive significant reforms.
Managing the salvaging operation will be an independent board of management and a forensic DNA science advisory sub-committee to provide independent oversight and to ensure scientific integrity that will start work in January.
The board will report jointly and directly to Health Minister Yvette D’Ath and the Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman, reflecting the desire of Sofronoff to align the new organisation, to be renamed Forensic Science Queensland, closer to the State’s judicial function.
“In the longer-term, we will look to establish a Queensland forensic agency under the Justice and Attorney-General portfolio, in line with its fundamental role contributing to the integrity of the justice system,” Palaszczuk.
Heading the new interim structure as CEO will be Professor Linzi Wilson-Wilde OAM, an internationally renowned forensic biologist who has been poached from South Australia where she was working in a similar role.
Flanking the Premier at today’s media conference, D’Ath and Fentiman will update the new organisation’s progress next month.
Tasks still to complete include the appointment of a board chair and a chief operations officer.
D’Ath said Queensland Health was also in discussion with several “eminent national and international forensics experts” about joining the forensic DNA science advisory sub-committee.
“These appointments will be critical in leading the important work to restore confidence in forensic DNA services in Queensland,” D’Ath said.
“We recognise the urgent leadership and cultural issues raised in both the interim and final reports and these issues will receive immediate attention.”
As the recruitment search begins, the government will be working through the responses from former senior forensic lab managers as to why they should keep their jobs, following the issuing of ‘show cause’ notices after details related to their conduct was revealed during the inquiry.
Some Queensland Health staff members and matters have been referred to the Crime and Corruption Commission.
D’Ath thanked the nine “courageous public service officers” who gave evidence to the inquiry “at great personal risk to their own health and careers”.
“I would personally like to thank these current and former staff members who showed an incredible amount of honesty and courage during this process,” D’Ath said.
“It is not acceptable they felt silenced in their workplace, but I am grateful they stood up and under very difficult circumstances, took an incredible risk in order to benefit the people of Queensland.”
D’Ath said the inquiry’s findings confirmed there were serious cultural issues plaguing Queensland Health and vowed to turbo charge reforms, promising “consequences” for manager’s who ignored complaints from staff or “swept issues under the carpet”.
Fentiman has flagged widening Queensland’s double jeopardy legislation, currently only applying to murder cases, to capturing sexual assault crimes. She said amendments would be brought before the Queensland Parliament next year.
Fentiman also stressed that victims of crime and assault survivors remained at the centre of the government’s reforms.
“We’re committing $10 million over four years for victim support services to meet any increased demand for trauma counselling,” she said.
“We will also be providing $3.8 million to the director of public prosecutions to assess witness statements and manage cases in a timely manner.”
A police taskforce is currently investigating how many DNA samples may require further testing in relation to serious crime cases.