Four-fold spike in calls to Queensland’s integrity and ethics watchdog
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Four-fold spike in calls to Queensland’s integrity and ethics watchdog

The number of politicians and bureaucrats seeking confidential advice on ethical dilemmas and integrity issues has risen to a record high, according to the Queensland Integrity Commissioner’s annual report.

Commissioner Dr Nikola Stepanov’s office has received a four-fold increase in requests for advice in the last year.

Commissioner Dr Nikola Stepanov’s office has received a four-fold increase in requests for advice in the last year.Credit:Facebook

Commissioner Nikola Stepanov’s office received 216 requests for advice - a four-fold increase from the average of 58 requests received each year over the previous five years.

Most people (202) received formal advice from the commissioner and 14 people received guidance over the phone.

Under the Ministerial Code of Conduct, ministers and assistant ministers are obliged to meet with the Integrity Commissioner at least once each year.

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But in the last financial year the commissioner, who also maintains the lobbyists register, attended more than 151 meetings with ministers, directors-general and statutory office holders to discuss compliance with standards and codes.

Dr Stepanov said the increased demand for her services was “a very positive reflection of the current ethical climate” and anticipated the number of advice requests will grow next year.

The commissioner’s advisory role was expanded in February 2018 to include council mayors and councillors following the Crime and Corruption Commission’s probe into local government in Queensland, Operation Belcarra.

Up until February,  the main requestors of ethical advice were MPs and statutory office holders.

But after the changes came in, the main requestors of advice were mayors and councillors - who made up most (75 per cent) of all requests for advice received in the last quarter of the 2017-18 financial year.

The most common request for advice was to resolve potential conflict of interest issues, while a small proportion related to general integrity and probity matters.

The annual report also revealed that several councils invited the commissioner and her staff to speak to councillors about how to identify and manage ethical issues.

Other topics politicians and bureaucrats requested advice on included the consequences of accepting donations, acceptance of hospitality and gifts, shareholdings, property ownership and proposed developments and potential conflicts from employment or business interests.

Only three enquiries were received, and responded to by the commissioner, in relation to lobbying.