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state political reporter Rachel Riga

Former archivist slams 'huge integrity issues' in Palaszczuk government ahead of review into Queensland's anti-corruption watchdog

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced a review of Queensland's corruption watchdog on Monday. (AAP: Jono Searle)

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has again been forced to defend the integrity of her government, after the state's former archivist alleged he was "directed to mislead parliament" by being pressured to water down annual reports amid government interference.

In a statement to the ABC, Mike Summerell alleged he was "summoned" to Queensland government headquarters for a meeting with the director-general (DG) of the Department of Housing and Public Works in 2018 to discuss legal advice about the independence of his office.  

Mr Summerell's former position oversaw record-keeping for Queensland government agencies and public authorities, including MPs.

"I was informed that the previous perceived independence of the State Archivist, which had been in place since the passing of the Public Records [Act] in 2002 was no longer valid," he said.

"She [the Director-General] had obtained legal advice which stated I had no independence other than in disposal decisions and was subject to the direction and control of the DG and the Minister in all other areas."

Mr Summerell alleged his attempts to obtain Crown Law advice on his independence, including the content he could put in annual reports and the investigations he undertook in relation to breaches of the Public Records Act, were never progressed by his oversight minister or the department.

The Minister of Housing and Public Works who oversaw the Office of the State Archivist in 2018 was Mick de Brenni.

The claims come after Ms Palaszczuk announced a royal commission-style inquiry into the structure of Queensland's anti-corruption body, the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC), which will be chaired by corruption fighter Tony Fitzgerald.

'Directed to produce a piece of PR'

Mr Summerell said he was also pressured by department officials to remove content from the 2017/2018 annual report that could be viewed as "bad news".

He was told to remove mention of then-energy minister Mark Bailey's email scandal in his annual report.

Queensland ministers were banned from using personal email accounts and apps to discuss official business after Mr Bailey came under fire and sparked a Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) investigation for his use and deletion of a private account.

Mike Summerell says his ability to undertake his statutory role was significantly compromised. (Supplied)

"My independence had been taken away and I had been directed to produce a piece of PR essentially, not a report to parliament on the administration of the Public Records Act.

"I considered this annual report a major failure of my time as State Archivist.

"I was also told to remove all reference to the poor standard of government record-keeping in general."

State archivist alleges annual reports were altered

Mr Summerell also alleged the following year he was directed to remove "essentially any contents that could be perceived negatively" and when he refused, a final version of his annual report was released without a foreword.

"Minister de Brenni I think jokingly said to me on one occasion, 'Your job is to make me look good' … I think too many public servants actually took that as a direction to live by."

Mr Summerell said in 2019 he raised multiple instances of interference and obstruction with the Public Records Review Committee, which advises the state archivist and the minister on the administration of the Public Records Act.

"As a result of that meeting, they asked for the legal advice on my independence in the drafting of the annual report on my behalf," he said.

"In May 2020, the Department eventually provided that advice. The advice clearly stated that I should not be directed to exclude content from the annual report if I considered it relevant to the administration of the Act.

"I had a key role in the integrity of the public record, which has a key role in ensuring the transparency and accountability of government, and I was essentially directed to mislead parliament as to the state of government record-keeping in Queensland.

"For two years I was denied access to legal advice to challenge the direction I was given."

In statement, Energy Minister Mick de Brenni said he was not aware of any wrongdoing in response to the accusations made by Mr Summerell.

"If any public servant has evidence of wrongdoing they should and are obliged to take it up with the relevant authority," he said.

"I'm not aware of any wrongdoing."

Public Records Act 'no longer fit for purpose'

Mr Summerell said initiatives to strengthen the Public Records Act – recommended after the Mark Bailey email matter – from 2017 onwards were stopped or never progressed.

He called for a review of the Act and said as the cornerstone of government accountability it was no longer "fit for purpose".

"There have been high profile cases where the failure to make and keep public records has been identified as a significant issue," he said.

"In March 2020, a coronial inquest was conducted into the death of 22-month old Mason Jet Lee in 2016. The Coroner's report published in June 2020 details numerous incidents involving poor record-keeping which contributed to the eventual death of the toddler.

"The time for a review of the Public Records Act is now well overdue and needs to include an independent and fully supported state archivist.

"[This government] sought to stop us doing our job and hid the facts of how bad things were in multiple annual reports for no other reason than it wasn't in their interest to draw attention to a bad news story

"Checks and balances don't work if the government of the day deliberately seeks to avoid them."

David Crisafulli says "major action" is needed to resolve the state's "integrity inferno". (ABC News: Lucas Hill)

Opposition leader David Crisafulli said the "lights have gone out" on accountability in Queensland.

"The revelations from the former state archivist are so damning – nothing short of a full royal commission into the conduct of this government will cut it," he said.

Mr Crisafulli said Mr Summerell had nothing to gain by making the claims publicly.

"The Premier's asked public servants to come forward. This one did, so what are you going to do about it?"

Premier questions why 'serious allegations' weren't raised sooner

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk was asked about Mr Summerell's claims at a press conference on Tuesday and said that they were "serious issues".

"He's not an independent statutory authority maker, he's an employee of the department, so those issues you will have to address with the relevant department," she said.

"But this is the first I've heard of it.

"As I said I encourage our public servants to be frank and honest and say if they don't think something is right."

While Ms Palaszczuk said the Director-General of the Department of Premier and Cabinet, Rachel Hunter, would look into the allegations raised by Mr Summerell, she also questioned whether he raised concerns with the state's Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC).

"However I am more than happy for my Director-General to look into these matters that have been raised and the serious allegations that he is raising.

"He would have had an obligation to refer those to the CCC.

"The individual has the onus of the obligation to refer it to the CCC in the first instance, that is the obligation of a public servant that works in Queensland."

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