Queensland opposition over-reach and media speculation over a false claim of a government raid has received a misinformation warning from the Crime and Corruption Commission
The false narrative about the Queensland premier ordering a raid on the Queensland Integrity Commission (QIC) is worryingly familiar with “alternate facts” Trumpism. While the Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) has warned against the spread of this misinformation, the Queensland Liberal National Party (LNP) opposition has dismissed it as a “different categorisation”. It appears to be an attempt to embed a conspiracy theory into the electorate akin to Donald Trump’s pursuit of Hunter Biden over his laptop.
The regular 5-year review of the Queensland Integrity Commission (QIC) began in March 2021 and was conducted by former public servant Professor Kevin Yearbury. Concluding in October, among a number of recommendations was addressing the ambiguous governance of the office between the Premier’s obligations and the Public Service Commission (PSC).
“The Integrity Commissioner sits within the Premier’s portfolio for functional purposes, however, the administrative and management responsibility for all the QIC’s staff lies with the PSC,” the review explained.
The advice was to allow the Integrity Commission to conduct its own staffing requirements instead of relying on secondments from the PSC. As part of the normal process, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk sent the report to the economics and governance committee for its consideration – Review calls for overhaul of stretched integrity office as lobbying booms.
Just prior to the review being published, the story about a “raid” on the Integrity Commission was introduced into the news cycle by The Courier Mail. The Queensland Liberal National Party Opposition Leader David Crisafulli in turn propagated the allegations into parliament by asking about the confiscation of phones and laptops – Palaszczuk denies involvement in ‘raid’ on integrity watchdog’s office.
Queensland Integrity Commissioner Dr Nikola Stepanov also laid out the staffing problems in her annual report tabled in October 2021 – Queensland Integrity Commissioner says staff shortages are crippling watchdog’s capacity.
Dr Stepanov later announced her resignation from the role in January 2022 but would stay on in the position until July – Queensland integrity commissioner resigns after concerns over interference with her office.
Things had been relatively quiet on the laptop claims until Australia Day 2022 when, triggered by the QIC commissioner’s resignation, OL David Crisafulli breathed new life into them during an interview with Sky News Australia.
The Courier Mail ran a sensationalist front page claiming it to be the biggest political scandal in thirty years, alluding to an issue not seen since the Fitzgerald Inquiry. Most of Queensland’s media followed, running with headlines about a “raid” by the premier.
The allegations were then re-introduced into the parliament by OL Crisafulli and repeated by many of his colleagues.
Three days later, the acting chair of the Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC), Bruce Barbour, confirmed to a regular committee meeting that a number of different complaints had been received from and about the QIC over time – Inside the probe of the Integrity Commissioner’s office. The laptops were one issue being examined.
After five months of accusations, media speculation and anti-Labor opinion pieces online and on-screen, the CCC released its report dispelling the rumours of a “raid” and “seizure” of laptops – CCC report on Investigation Workshop tabled in State Parliament. The Courier Mail had also conducted exclusive polling during this period.
The government, which had been largely silent on queries throughout the CCC investigation, fronted the media in the form of Qld Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman.
Premier Palaszczuk also responded a day later labeling the episode as “nonsense” and requested an apology to the Queensland people from OL Crisafulli over the misinformation.
However, OL Crisafulli subsequently refused to apologise or correct the misinformation. He indicated he would continue to endeavour to learn what was on the laptop.
Tensions, speculation and accusations all stemmed from a director returning from secondment with the QIC with two laptops.
In its report, the CCC wrote:
“A particular point of friction – which became central to this investigation – was the circumstances in which a Director, seconded to the Integrity Commissioner’s office9, was returned to the PSC, and the circumstances in which two laptops were removed from the Integrity Commissioner’s office on about 12 March 2021.”
Their retrieval was part of normal computer support activity. The CCC noted:
“It is sufficiently clear that they collected the Director’s laptop from the Integrity Commissioner’s office to secure it for the purpose of the ongoing investigation concerning the Director. The Executive Officer’s laptop was collected by the Desktop Support Engineer at the same time so it could be reallocated to the new starter.”
The CCC also fully backed the recommendations from Professor Yearbury’s QIC review adding:
“Finally, this investigation highlights the difficulties which arise by reason of the current administrative and governance arrangements related to the Integrity Commissioner’s office. While we understand that the Government is currently considering these matters, the CCC reiterates its support for the changes proposed to these arrangements in Professor Yearbury’s review.”
As for the misinformation warning from the CCC, OL Crisafulli remains happy to allow the conspiracy theory to evolve. The media has not cleaned up the false narrative in equivalency to its initial trumpeting of the raid allegation. Like Hunter Biden’s laptop, the false narrative will remain active for state election time in 2024.