Queensland Law Society explained its position on proposed changes to integrity laws at the recent public hearing on the inquiry into the Integrity and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2023.
At Parliament House last Friday, Occupational Discipline Law Committee Chair Calvin Gnech and Senior Policy Solicitor Bridget Cook fielded questions from the Economic and Governance Committee about the QLS submission.
The Bill represents the second key tranche of legislation (following the Integrity and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2022) to implement the Government’s response to recommendations from Let the sunshine in: Review of culture and accountability in the Queensland public sector (the “Coaldrake Report”) and the Strategic Review of the Integrity Commissioner’s Functions (the “Yearbury Report”).
The Bill includes amendments to help define and better regulate lobbying activity; enhance the independence of core integrity bodies; enhance the jurisdiction of the Queensland Ombudsman to investigate complaints against non-government bodies; and establish the Office of the Queensland Integrity Commissioner.
In its submission, QLS welcomed the modernisation of Section 43 of the Integrity Act 2009 (Qld) to more accurately describe activities which should not be considered lobbying activity for the purposes of the legislation.
“QLS particularly welcomes the clear exclusion of activities reflecting community engagement in law reform, by way of responding to in law reform, by way of responding to calls for submissions, or raising issues of public concern, by way of petitions,” the submission states.
QLS also praised the continued recognition in the Act that a lobbying activity is not communicating with a representative in the ordinary course of providing legal services.
However, the society raised concerns that the “dual hatting” drafting in the new Section 58 of the Act does not reflect the recommendations of the Coaldrake Report, which called for an explicit prohibition on lobbyists “dual hatting” as political campaigners.
“The inclusion of the term ‘substantial’ is open to interpretation and produces uncertainty,” it said.
“The provision will be open to abuse by registered lobbyists until the scope of the concept of ‘performing a substantial role’ is clarified.”
QLS welcomed the Bill’s push to better involve parliamentary committees in key appointments such as to the state’s Auditor-General, Integrity Commissioner, Ombudsman and Information Commissioner. It acknowledged the difficulty of achieving achieve true bipartisan appointments where the committee chair holds the casting vote, and encouraged further consideration of this issue.
The society also welcomed an amendment that requires a designated person to notify a minister in whose office they are employed of any request the designated person has made for advice from the integrity commissioner. However, it was concerned this may deter a designated person from seeking advice from the integrity commissioner about the minister themselves, and proposed the possible need for an exception to the requirement.
The Society noted the Bill did not address several recommendations of the Coaldrake Report, including that the Ombudsman be given jurisdiction over non-government organisations and other contracted service providers; and the development of a framework to determine appropriate relationships among ministers, staff and senior public servants.
“In responding to the release of the Coaldrake Report, the Premier (Annastacia Palaszczuk) indicated that the Government would accept all of the recommendations and implement them ‘lock, stock and barrel’,” it said.
“QLS therefore encourages the Government to continue to work towards developing further reforms that give effect to these important recommendations and provide a public update on the intended approach to achieve these reforms.”
The Committee’s report will be tabled by 1 September 2023.