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state political reporter Rachel Riga

Cultural issues one of the 'biggest cancers' in the Queensland government, says former state archivist

Former state archivist Mike Summerell describes cultural problems as one of the "biggest cancers" in the Queensland government. (Supplied: Mike Summerell)

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has conceded "some things could have been done better" as her government remains under pressure over several integrity issues raised by former and outgoing public servants.

It comes as former state archivist Mike Summerell told the ABC a wider review into integrity matters in Queensland was desperately needed to address culture issues, which he labelled as one of the "biggest cancers" in the state government.

A number of allegations have been levelled by Mr Summerell in the past two weeks, including that he was pressured to water down annual reports and that one was altered to remove content that reflected negatively on the government.

Mr Summerell, Queensland's outgoing Integrity Commissioner Nikola Stepanov and other former public servants have recently supported calls for an inquiry into integrity matters within the state. 

After days of defending her government's track record on accountability and transparency, today in a change of tone, Ms Palaszczuk made a rare concession that there were things that "could have been done better".

"I do expect high standards across the public service," she said.

"I value our public servants and what we've heard over the last week, I acknowledge that some things could have been done better."

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has been under pressure to defend the integrity of her government for weeks. (ABC News: Alice Pavlovic)

When asked what could have been improved on, Ms Palaszczuk said she wanted to ensure matters raised by public servants were investigated.

"Well obviously some people have some grievances, and some people don't think they were listened to and I don't want that," she said.

"I want them to be listened to, and I want to make sure the matters that they raise are investigated."

Review into Summerell allegations to be headed by external lawyer

Ms Palaszczuk said she had directed her director-general Rachel Hunter – who oversees the state's public service – to send a letter to all public servants on Monday reiterating the Premier's expectations and highlighting the reporting mechanisms in place if they want to raise issues.

The Premier also announced an investigation, which was to be led by Ms Hunter into the allegations raised by Mr Summerell, would be broadened to be more independent, with an external Queen's Counsel (QC) to now carry out the probe.

"She [Ms Hunter] does not want any perceptions of conflict," Ms Palaszczuk said.

"So that QC's report will be done completely independently, at arm's length from the government, and as soon as that report is completed it will be immediately released.

"It will not be looked at by government, it will not be looked at by cabinet. It will be immediately released."

Mr Summerell told the ABC that while he welcomed news about making the inquiry more independent, he believed he would not be contacted as part of the review.

"I looked at the terms of reference and it simply said it was a review of documentation and one of my big concerns that I've said is a lot of the key information is never recorded," he said.

"If this is used to end my complaints, that's missing the point – there needs to be an inquiry into the wider integrity issues and those frameworks."

Mr Summerell had previously been critical of the investigation, saying it was not appropriate to have the director-general of the Premier's department investigate serious allegations he made about his time in the role.

'You're lying to the Queensland public'

Mr Summerell said in an interview with the ABC that he did not have "an axe to grind" with the government over his allegations and that the Queensland public should care if bureaucrats have been avoiding, deleting or altering government documents that are meant to be on the public record.

"I think people think – the archivist, public records, what does it mean?" he said.

"A key purpose of public records is you can hold those who work for you accountable, they work for you.

"They should not be able to choose what they tell you. So if someone is deliberately seeking to avoid that record it's a fraud on the Queensland public.

"The Queensland public should care that their leaders and key people are hiding the truth from them … they are hiding things that are embarrassing and damaging politically so you don't know about it."

Mr Summerell said wider integrity issues in the government had to be looked at holistically in a review or "nothing would change".

"For me, one of the biggest cancers is culture," he said.

"There is a culture of protection rather than frank and fearless advice in the public service.

"It's service to the government and not public service.

"[Deputy Premier] Steven Miles described it as 'a vibe' – it's not really something as trivial as 'a vibe', it's a culture which actually undermines the public interest.

"That whole integrity framework needs to be looked at more closely including the Public Sector Act and the code of conduct."

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