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Integrity talks: Palaszczuk Government mulls what it means to be ethical

Politics

More than two years after it received the Bridgman Review of the public sector, the Palaszczuk Government is preparing to have difficult conversations about values, ethics and integrity.

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The review, by barrister Peter Bridgman, recommended the government “initiate a forward-looking examination of an integrated ethics and integrity model for state employees” and consider legislating “a statement of values in Queensland public sector employment and how such a statement relates to other elements of the integrity framework”.

“A challenge of legislated values such as these is that they (or parts of them) might be contestable,” the Bridgman Review noted.

“Innovation, for example, may not be welcomed in high value procurement. Espoused openness sites uneasily with Cabinet exemptions from Freedom of Information, especially if it is selectively and politically used. And what are the consequences if an employee does not agree with the espoused value?”

While the recommendations around integrity and ethics were not part of the Palaszczuk Government’s first round of reforms last year, they will now be workshopped internally to create a blueprint for the future.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Premier and Cabinet said a joint advisory committee had been established, with department and union representations, to oversee the implementation of already accepted recommendations, including development of a new Public Service Act and Code of Conduct.

“A number of sub-committees will be established, including one to examine ethics and integrity matters,” the spokeswoman said.

The joint advisory committee reports via the Public Sector Reform Office to the department’s director-general, and will contribute to new public sector employment legislation that is intended to be introduce to parliament in the first half of 2022.

The Bridgman Review foreshadowed the need to consider the outcome of the then unfinalised ‘Banerji case’ – the High Court later found the Federal Government had the right to sack a public servant who had been tweeting political comments under an alias – as well as the Commonwealth’s Thodey Review into the public service.

The Thodey Review found a need to reinforce institutional and individual integrity requirements across the Commonwealth public sector to “sustain the highest standards of ethics”. While the Morrison government did not accept all recommendations, it agreed to reinforce integrity, and expand the reach and application of existing public service integrity requirements and move to establish a Commonwealth Integrity Commission.

The Queensland talks come amid an independent review of the state’s Integrity Commissioner, including the state’s lobbying framework. and as the government considers its response to a five-yearly review of the Crime and Corruption Commission.

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