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Queensland to reform lobbyist watchdog

The Queensland premier has tabled bills in parliament to give the auditor-general and the political lobbyist watchdog more independence.

The Queensland premier has tabled bills in parliament to give the auditor-general and the political lobbyist watchdog more independence.

Queensland will have an independent political lobbying watchdog and people caught lobbying without being registered will face fines of almost $29,000 under proposed laws.

The reforms come after a number of incidents, inquiries and reports involving government accountability, transparency and culture in recent years.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has tabled a bill to set up a new Office of Integrity Commissioner, independent of government, to oversee lobbying in the state.

“Queenslanders quite rightly expect their government to provide public services that demand transparent and accountable decision-making,” she told parliament on Friday.

“My government is committed to strengthening our integrity and oversight framework, so it is contemporary and maintains and improves a culture of accountability.”

No one will be able to direct the Integrity Commissioner on how to perform their function or how to prioritise ethics or integrity cases under the laws.

Staff in the new office will remain public service employees but the new law prevents them from being directed by anyone outside their office.

Ms Palaszczuk said that includes directions on the way functions are performed, or the priority given to ethics or integrity issues.

Unregistered lobbying will become an offence with those found guilty liable for a fine of 200 penalty units – about $28,750.

The Queensland auditor-general will be made an officer of parliament and given control over resources in their own office.

They will also be able to conduct performance audits of government-owned corporations.

Ms Palaszczuk said the ombudsman’s office will be strategically reviewed every five years, rather than the current seven, under the proposed laws.

The reforms come four months after a review of government accountability and culture by public administrator and academic Professor Peter Coaldrake.

His report highlighted a tolerance for bullying among public servants and a reluctance to deviate from the perceived official government line.

Earlier on Friday, the premier announced she has appointed former NSW deputy and Victorian assistant ombudsman Linda Waugh as the state’s new integrity commissioner.

Her predecessor, Dr Nikola Stepanov, resigned in controversy earlier this year after a laptop was removed from her office by the Public Service Commission without her permission.

A Crime and Corruption Commission probe found no wrongdoing in relation to the device.

However, the watchdog questioned the “ongoing suitability” of the Department of Premier and Cabinet providing IT services for the Integrity Commissioner.

The CCC also pointed out public service bosses controlled the lobbyist watchdog’s staff and budget.

– AAP

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