A parliamentary committee has asked the Queensland government to order a royal commission into the state’s corruption watchdog after it found the commission exceeded its powers and showed bias in matters surrounding the Logan City Council.
The bipartisan committee on Dec. 2 handed down a report that found the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) did not act “independently and impartially” in laying fraud charges against the former Logan mayor and councillors.
The Logan councillors were charged with fraud in 2019 after the council terminated the CEO for passing information to the CCC about the former mayor.
After the charges were laid, the mayor and seven councillors were removed from office with the council dissolved and an administrator appointed.
Prosecutors withdrew the charges in April due to a lack of evidence after which the Local Government Association of Queensland lodged a complaint against the watchdog.
Committee chair Jon Krause said the inquiry, which launched in April, uncovered “remarkable dealings” between the watchdog and the former CEO’s lawyers. He described the committee’s findings as “extremely serious.”
This included that the watchdog provided the CEO with confidential documents it had obtained under compulsion to help in her attempt to be reinstated via civil proceedings.
The report also found the CCC had exceeded the limits of its already “extraordinary powers” by involving itself in the former Logan CEO’s unfair dismissal proceedings.
The CCC saw its interests were aligned with the CEO and its decision to lay charges had been “affected by the desire to assist” the CEO, the report’s authors stated.
“Queensland needs an effective, independent, impartial watchdog on public sector corruption and major crime,” Krause told parliament on Thursday (pdf).
“This report just tabled outlines serious findings and related recommendations that speak to these issues, including by making findings about where the CCC has failed in the role entrusted to it by this parliament on behalf of all Queenslanders.”
Krause said the watchdog’s power to both investigate and charge people had led to partiality and bias.
The report’s authors recommended the government order a royal commission “or similar” into the CCC.
In a response on Thursday, the Crime and Corruption Commission said it will “carefully consider the report and its recommendations” while noting “concerns about how some aspects of the inquiry were conducted.”
The CCC said its current chairman would continue to lead the CCC, amid calls from the LGAQ that he should resign after the report stated that he did not ensure the watchdog acted “independently and impartially.”
“That failing is serious and reflects poorly on the Crime and Corruption Commission,” the report’s authors said.
The LGAQ has also requested a public apology and compensation for the eight councillors, whose careers were unfairly cut short.
“We, therefore, call on the CCC chair to act in the interests of the future of this important institution and stand down,” association president and Sunshine Coast Mayor Mark Jamieson said.
Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman did not comment on if the chair should resign, saying that was his decision, The Australian reported.
She said the chairman’s future in the role was up to the parliament and not the government.