I am writing to every candidate who has put their name forward for the upcoming Queensland state government election this month. The Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) has a number of important functions which include increasing the capacity of elected officials to prevent corruption by providing advice and raising standards of integrity and conduct with elected officials.
If you are elected to Parliament, or if your party forms government, you will be among the most important decision-makers in the state, and the country. You will have enormous influence and all sorts of people — wealthy, powerful and disadvantaged— will ask for your help.
Ultimately, what the community asks of government is that it be fair and trustworthy. Queenslanders want to know that decisions are transparent and merit-based. They want to have confidence that their politicians are not for sale and are prepared to be accountable for their actions. It goes without saying that they believe decisions are meant to be made in the best interests of the Queensland community.
The lead-up to an election can be a high-risk period for elected officials and candidates. Individuals, corporations and groups of people with vested interests may attempt to exert undue pressure or seek to buy influence through exploiting personal associations and/or making donations to political parties or individual candidates to influence government decision-making or policy. Previous CCC investigations, including Operation Belcarra, have highlighted particular risks associated with political donations. It is important that elected officials and candidates are aware of their obligations when it comes to disclosing donations and the prohibited donor scheme. Elected officials and candidates should be alert to the strategies and tactics that may be used by some in the private sector to buy or exert influence.
Following the 2016 local government elections, the CCC undertook an investigation and ultimately a public hearing known as Operation Belcarra. The CCC commenced Operation Belcarra following the receipt of numerous complaints relating to various issues involving a lack of transparency and perceptions that candidates had real or perceived conflicts of interest because they had received donations from property developers with business interests relevant to the councils’ functions.
One of the key recommendations from Operation Belcarra included a ban on donations from property developers. Consequently donations from property developers were banned at both the state and local government elections. The upcoming State government election will be the first state government election in which these new laws have applied.
The CCC is proactively collating information from various sources including donations being made to registered political parties and candidates to better understand whether these give rise to any new or emerging corruption risks. The Electoral Commission of Queensland (ECQ) actively monitors electoral donations to ensure compliance with the regulatory framework in relation to elections and the giving and receiving of donations.
The CCC’s own intelligence assessment indicates that the lines between government and the private sector are blurring, with overlapping networks of association involving consultants, influencers, lobbyists and executives. That’s why, in the lead-up to this election, the CCC is working proactively to assess and identify any activity or associations that may put the public interest at risk.
In addition to the corruption risks associated with candidates and political parties accepting political donations is the need for governments across Australia to stimulate the economy due to the impact of COVID-19. Governments across Australia are under pressure to balance competing interests and to stimulate the economy, cut red tape and “get things moving”. At such a time, partnerships between government and the private sector are indispensable to the productivity and economic future of Queensland. If not carefully managed, such partnerships can also open the doors to corruption.
Integrity agencies do not seek to stifle any legitimate attempts by governments to stimulate the economy. In fact, an engaged workforce and low levels of unemployment can, in many cases, reduce some of the pressures which can lead to corruption.
It is vital that government decision-making is fair, transparent and accountable and that decisions are based on merit and are in the best interests of the Queensland community. To this end the CCC is working closely with other stakeholders to keep informed of corruption risks and take action where necessary.
I ask all candidates for the upcoming state government election to be vigilant in ensuring that your actions do not compromise your integrity and maintain public confidence in the government of the day regardless of your political persuasion.
Publicising allegations of corrupt conduct
For a number of years the CCC has been advising of the difficulties created when allegations of corrupt conduct are made public prior to, or at the same time as, a complaint is made to the CCC. Publicising allegations of corrupt conduct may adversely affect the ability of the CCC to perform its corruption function, damage the reputation of the person alleged to have engaged in corrupt conduct, and compromise the fair trial of persons charged with corruption.
The publication of a complaint can also lead to unsubstantiated allegations being aired publicly, and may give the appearance a complaint is motivated for political gain or other reasons.
For all these reasons, I again strongly urge you, if you have a genuine complaint to make against a person, particularly in the lead up to the election, not to publicise that complaint until after the CCC has had an opportunity to assess and possibly investigate the complaint.
Good luck in the upcoming election.
A J MacSporran QC
13 October 2020
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