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state political reporter Rachel Riga

Independent probe finds State Archivist Mike Summerall was not put under "improper pressure" to change annual reports

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk commissioned the review after significant pressure.    (AAP: Jono Searle)

An independent probe commissioned by Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk into allegations by the former State Archivist has found he was not directed by department officials to make changes to annual reports and that they did not impose "improper pressure". 

Last month former State Archivist Mike Summerell alleged he was "directed to produce a piece of PR" by being pressured to remove negative content from two draft annual reports.

Mr Summerell's former position – which he held for five years until March last year — oversaw record-keeping for Queensland government agencies and public authorities including MPs.

Ms Palaszczuk commissioned the review last month which was going to be undertaken by her Director-General Rachel Hunter but was instead headed by external Queen's Counsel John McKenna to ensure its independence from government.

The allegations 

Mr McKenna looked into three allegations which included whether Mr Summerell was pressured to remove any content from the draft reports that could be perceived negatively, if he was directed to create misleading annual reports to avoid anything embarrassing or damaging to the government, and if his attempts to raise concerns through the draft reports were interfered with.

He found officers from the Department of Housing and Public Work did not direct that any changes be made to the text of the Queensland State Archives annual reports for 2017-18 and 2018-19.

"The departmental officers only ever requested, in a respectful way, that the State Archivist consider making particular changes to these reports," he said.

"All of these requests were reasonable and appropriate and were not motivated by improper or irrelevant considerations.

"In making these requests, the departmental officers did not impose improper pressure upon the State Archivist or otherwise act inappropriately."

Director-General Rachel Hunter was initially supposed to undertake the investigation.  (AAP: Dave Hunt)

He said any changes which ultimately were made to these annual reports were approved by Mr Summerell.

"The changes did not result in the annual reports becoming misleading or concealing any material facts."

Mr McKenna said acknowledged Mr Summerell was genuinely concerned to fulfil his statutory role in an honourable, vigorous and independent manner.

"However, the position of State Archivist has never been an independent statutory office … [it] has always been a member of the public service," he said.

"Accordingly, there are others in government who also have a legal responsibility for the work of the Queensland State Archives … this requires a degree of supervision and scrutiny … including the review of its annual report before they are finalised."

'Strongly worded statements were not supported by the information'

The report noted Mr Summerell and a senior officer of the Department of Housing and Public Works assisted with the review and helped provide documentation of email exchanges.

Mr McKenna said the changes to the annual reports did result in the deletion, from the introductory section, of statements by Mr Summerell that the Public Records Act required "urgent" reform because it was "unfit for purpose" or had significant "shortcomings".

"However in my view, it was appropriate that these statements were queried by the Department as these strongly worded statements were not supported by the information or analysis provided in the body of the report."

Mr McKenna also found, after reviewing Crown Law advice obtained at the time, that relevant staff of the Department of Housing and Public Work were legally entitled to suggest appropriate changes to these reports.

"When the course of events are examined, it is clear that this was the only function which the staff of the Department performed," he said.

"Nothing occurred which could fairly be described as a 'direction' to the State Archivist to make changes."

Summerall: 'This was not an independent investigation'

In a statement Mr Summerell said he did not agree with the findings of the investigation.

"I am disappointed by the opinion expressed but sadly not remotely surprised," he said.

"My view was and remains that I was 'requested or directed' to remove material content from my statement in the annual report of 2017/18 and agreed to the complete removal of my statement in the annual report of 2018/19.

"The resulting changes, in my view, significantly misrepresented my views as to the state of government record keeping and the administration of the public records during the relevant years."

Mike Summerell alleged he was pressured to remove negative content from draft annual reports.  (Supplied: Mike Summerell)

Mr Summerell also raised concerned about the independence of the investigation and the material used to make the findings.

"The investigation relied primarily on physical documentation," he said

"Much of the direction and pressure I incurred was verbal and 'off the record'.

"My involvement with the investigation was a sole email exchange three weeks into the investigation via Crown Law. I never spoke to the QC in person at any point.

"Crown Law's involvement in the investigation frankly shocked me. Crown Law are in effect the Government's solicitor and had provided key legal opinion on multiple occasions that resulted in these events.

"They should have declared a conflict of interest and removed themselves from this investigation. This was not an independent investigation in any way."

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