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CCC determines not to investigate the Deputy Premier but calls for improvements to Cabinet processes and legislative reform

Date published

The Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) has completed its assessment of allegations of corrupt conduct relating to the Hon. Jackie Trad, Deputy Premier, Treasurer and Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships and her involvement in decision-making relating to Cross River Rail and the Inner City South State Secondary College (ICSSSC).

The CCC received an initial complaint on 18 July 2019 containing allegations the Deputy Premier engaged in corrupt conduct in relation to decisions about Cross River Rail and, to a lesser extent, decisions about the ICSSSC.

A subsequent complaint specifically containing allegations the Deputy Premier engaged in corrupt conduct in relation to decisions about the ICSSSC was received by the CCC on 2 August 2019.

Based on the information obtained and assessed by the CCC, no evidence or information was identified that supported a reasonable suspicion of corrupt conduct as defined in section 15 of the Crime and Corruption Act 2001.

The jurisdiction of the CCC to investigate suspected corrupt conduct by elected officials is limited to circumstances where the alleged conduct would, if proved, amount to a criminal offence. The CCC’s assessment did not identify evidence or information suggesting a criminal offence had been committed.

The CCC will therefore not commence a corruption investigation.

The CCC has determined it is in the public interest to outline its assessment process.

During the assessment process, the CCC identified several areas to improve Cabinet’s decision-making processes and areas for legislative reform to reduce corruption risks.

The CCC has made five recommendations to the Parliament and others to address these areas.

The Assessment

Corruption prevention function

Pursuant to section 35(1)(a) of the Crime and Corruption Act 2001, the Commission performs its functions by, inter alia, expeditiously assessing complaints involving corruption. Section 64 provides that the Commission may report on the performance of its functions.  Accordingly, the Commission furnishes its assessment regarding allegations of corrupt conduct made against the Deputy Premier.

Also, under section 23 of the Crime and Corruption Act 2001, the CCC has a function of helping to prevent corruption. The recommendations made as a result of this assessment and the statements below are made in furtherance of these functions.

Key Dates

The timeline below outlines some of the key dates considered by the CCC as part of its assessment. Other material obtained by the CCC during the assessment was relevant when establishing a complete timeline of events but, as some of that material is not in the public domain or cannot be released by the CCC, it has not been included below.

DATE

ACTION

6 September  to 14 October 2018

Government undertakes community consultation on proposed catchment and draft Enrolment Management Plan for ICSSSC

December 2018

Catchment area for ICSSSC finalised

27 March 2019

Submission to CBRC by Deputy Premier concerning matters related to the Cross River Rail

27 March 2019

Submission to CBRC by Minister for Education concerning matters relating to ICSSSC

27 March 2019

Contract for purchase of 48 Abingdon Street Woolloongabba property signed by Deputy Premier’s husband

29 March 2019

Deputy Premier releases new concept master plan and designs for ICSSSC for community feedback

29 March 2019

Text/SMS message from Deputy Premier’s husband to Deputy Premier advising of property to be purchased and location

29 March and 3 April 2019

CBRC meets to consider Cross River Rail submissions

 

3 - 5 April 2019

CBRC considers ICSSSC

2 July 2019

Deputy Premier provides updated pecuniary interests form to Clerk of Parliament, however, in incorrect form.

17 July 2019

Deputy Premier provides completed forms to Clerk of Parliament

17 July 2019

Media commences reporting about property purchase

18 July 2019

CCC receives complaint about Deputy Premier and involvement in decisions relating to Cross River Rail

18 July 2019

Deputy Premier seeks advice from Integrity Commissioner

21 July 2019

Deputy Premier contacts CCC Chairperson by telephone

22 July 2019

Deputy Premier self-referral received by the CCC

26 July 2019

CCC Chairperson recuses himself during Budget Estimates

2 August 2019

CCC receives complaint about Deputy Premier and involvement in ICSSSC

18 July to 6 September 2019

CCC assessment period

6 September 2019

CCC assessment decision

 

Material considered during the assessment

Following receipt of the complaints, the CCC assessed a range of material including:

  • Allegations and information contained in the complaints received
  • The Ministerial Handbook
  • The Cabinet Handbook
  • The Integrity Act 2009
  • The Parliament of Queensland Act 2001
  • Potential offences in the Criminal Code including official corruption and misconduct in relation to public office
  • Cabinet minutes from two meetings in March and April 2019 including:
    • Voting decisions of Cabinet
    • Whether any actual or perceived conflicts were declared and then managed in those meetings
    • Documents obtained from the Cabinet Secretary
    • Advice from the Integrity Commissioner to the Deputy Premier
    • Information that came from an interview conducted by CCC officers with a senior official present at the relevant Cabinet Meetings
    • Material obtained from the Cross River Rail Delivery Authority
    • Information obtained in relation to the sale and purchase of the property in Woolloongabba
    • Material provided to the CCC by the Deputy Premier.

The Ministerial Handbook, Cabinet Handbook, Codes of Conduct and other guidance material

A range of resources which provide guidance to elected officials to assist in managing their responsibilities, including conflicts of interest, are freely and publicly available. These resources include:


More information on this material is available at: https://www.premiers.qld.gov.au/publications/categories/policies-and-codes/handbooks.aspx . 

The CCC’s jurisdiction relates to corrupt conduct as defined in the Crime and Corruption Act 2001. Not adhering to the Ministerial Handbook and Cabinet Handbook or other guidance material does not automatically constitute corrupt conduct.

It is not the CCC’s role to police the adherence to handbooks and this material. This is a matter for the Parliament. The CCC does not have the jurisdiction to investigate individuals who do not comply with the handbooks or other material unless such breaches amount to corrupt conduct.

The CCC notes the Deputy Premier has acknowledged she did not update her statements of interests in relation to the purchase of the property within one month as required under section 69B of the Parliament of Queensland Act 2001. This section required the Deputy Premier to update her own change in interests as well as changes related to any related person.

Failing to comply with this section is not a criminal offence, and therefore not corrupt conduct.

The Deputy Premier has not disputed she did not declare an actual, potential or perceived conflicts of interest when participating in the CBRC decisions concerning the Cross River Rail and ICSSSC with which this assessment is concerned.

An issue arises as to whether she adhered to requirements contained in the Ministerial Handbook and Cabinet Handbook by not disclosing an actual, potential or perceived conflict of interest in relation to these matters.

The statement of interest issue and conflicts of interest issue are matters for the Parliament.

No evidence was identified by the CCC during its assessment to raise a reasonable suspicion that the non-disclosure of a conflict of interest was for any dishonest or corrupt reason. Further, no evidence of corruption or dishonesty was found.

The processes to declare and manage conflicts of interests are outlined in the handbooks.

The CCC identified during its assessment that conflicts of interests are not a standing agenda item for Cabinet meetings.

The CCC has identified opportunities for improved alignment of the processes outlined in the handbooks with the processes of Cabinet.

Cabinet Processes

Cabinet is one of the highest decision-making bodies in Queensland, and for legitimate reasons, deliberations of Cabinet are rarely made public.

Due to limitations of publishing material specifically relating to Cabinet decisions, the CCC will not publicly outline the deliberations of the relevant Cabinet meetings, reasons why decisions were made and the voting records on matters subject to the complaints to the CCC. Whether this material is released or not is not a matter for the CCC.

The CCC was provided access to this material as part of its assessment and can confirm it is satisfied decisions made during these meetings, and the way the decisions were made, do not raise any reasonable suspicion of corrupt conduct.

However, following this assessment, the CCC is of the view the current process for declaring actual, potential or perceived conflicts of interest in matters before Cabinet is not consistent with best governance practice and should be improved.

Cabinet decisions and deliberations are not routinely made public. For this reason it is essential any conflict of interest and the way in which it is managed is clearly recorded at the time.

It was evident from the CCC’s assessment there was no standing agenda item calling for any actual, potential or perceived conflicts to be raised and dealt with. It appears the practice relies on individual Ministers to raise these issues.

This creates a potential corruption risk.

While, on this occasion, the CCC has determined there was no corrupt conduct, improving the processes to document if any members were asked to declare conflicts and record how any conflict was dealt with on matters before Cabinet is critical to reducing the corruption risk and improving transparency of future decision-making.

The CCC also considers that failure to properly declare and manage a conflict of interest should attract criminal sanctions.

Following its assessment, the CCC has identified several areas for improvement to ensure conflicts of interest are declared and managed more effectively.

Recommendations

Recommendation 1:

During the current term of Parliament, the Government amend Cabinet processes to ensure a standing agenda item is included for each Cabinet meeting and decision to mandate the proactive declaration of any actual, potential or perceived conflicts of interest, and the recording of any management or treatment of these conflicts.

This will ensure:

  • there is proactive consideration by Cabinet of any conflicts and the onus on individual Ministers to declare or not declare conflicts for each decision is highlighted,
  • the opportunity is provided for a declaration to be made by Ministers before decisions are taken, and
  • outcomes in relation to the management or treatment of conflicts of interest are adequately documented in the minutes.

Recommendation 2:

During the current term of Parliament, the Government ensure Cabinet processes provide guidance to Ministers to prepare a management plan for any conflict of interest before being involved in Cabinet or other related decisions.

Where a Minister requires advice from the Integrity Commissioner to assist in establishing if they have a conflict, it is the CCC’s view that the advice should be received before being involved in decisions of Cabinet. Receiving advice after being involved in a decision is inadequate.

Any advice from the Integrity Commissioner in these circumstances would be available to the relevant Minister or Premier to manage and deal with the conflict of interest at the time when relevant decisions are made, and not retrospectively.

It is also recommended that Ministers consider tabling advice from the Integrity Commissioner in Cabinet.

Recommendation 3:

Parliament create a criminal offence for occasions when a member of Cabinet does not declare a conflict that does, or may conflict, with their ability to discharge their responsibilities.

Creating a criminal offence will strengthen the framework and obligations on Ministers to ensure disclosure and management of actual, potential or perceived conflicts of interest occurs. Failure to do so could, in certain circumstances, be considered corrupt conduct, as defined in the Crime and Corruption Act 2001.

Recommendation 4:

That Parliament create a criminal offence to apply when a member of Cabinet fails to comply with the requirements of the Register of Members’ Interests, and the Register of Members’ Related Persons Interests by not informing the Clerk of Parliament, in the approved form, of the particulars of an interest or the change to an interest within one month after the interest arises or the change happens. A suitable penalty should apply, including possible removal from office, if it is found that the Member’s lack of compliance was intentional.

This would align the obligations of elected officials in state government with the obligations of elected officials in local government. This recommendation is consistent with the recommendations for local government made by the CCC arising out of Operation Belcarra.

Recommendation 5:

During this term of Parliament, the CCC recommends the Department of the Premier and Cabinet, in consultation with the Integrity Commissioner, review all handbooks and guidance material in relation to conflicts of interest to ensure there is consistency and all material reflects best practice.

Once this has been achieved, it is further recommended Members of Parliament are provided training in relation to the revised material to ensure their obligations, particularly relating to conflicts of interest, are understood.

Consistent with the current material, revised material should be placed on a publicly available website to promote transparency.

Progressing the Recommendations

If the recommendations are accepted and acted on, the CCC would welcome the opportunity to provide a submission to the relevant parliamentary committee considering legislative changes to support these recommendations.

The CCC’s Assessment Decision

The CCC’s Executive Leadership Team (ELT) made this assessment decision during its meeting on Friday 6 September 2019.

CCC Chairperson Alan MacSporran QC recused himself from this assessment during Budget Estimates on 26 July 2019 due to a perceived conflict. While Mr MacSporran was aware a decision was likely to be made at the ELT’s meeting on 6 September 2019, he was not involved in the assessment decision and did not attend that meeting. Mr MacSporran was on planned recreation leave. He commenced leave on 5 September 2019.

CCC Commissioner Marshall Irwin is currently the Acting Chairperson and as such was involved in the decision.

Conclusion

Not all failures to properly declare and manage a conflict of interest will be the result of a corrupt or dishonest motive. However, as a general proposition, failing to declare and properly manage a conflict of interest creates a corruption risk.

In addition to creating a corruption risk, failing to properly declare and manage a conflict of interest undermines perceptions of the integrity of processes, and creates a lack of confidence in processes and the outcomes they lead to. And the very legitimacy of projects can be undermined.

Properly dealing with conflicts of interest is integral to the effective and efficient functioning of the public sector.

The Queensland community expects all people involved in public sector administration to adhere to the highest standards of integrity in dealing with conflicts of interest.

Moreover, the community expect the highest standards of ethical leadership– both political and within public sector agencies.

ENDS

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