Ipswich City Council administrator Greg Chemello.
Ipswich City Council administrator Greg Chemello.

Whistleblowers allege theft, fraud, racism in council

WHISTLEBLOWERS have revealed theft, fraud, racism, and sexual harassment were rife at Ipswich City Council in the years leading to interim administrator Greg Chemello being appointed.

Mr Chemello will release his final report tomorrow to the Ipswich community.

It details outcomes from the whistleblower hotline he set up.

He finishes in the role the same day.

The 60-page report highlights more than 25 key areas of council operations which were underperforming or were allowed inappropriate use of ratepayer funds and/or contributed to poor governance and culture.

It details what council has done to rectify this.

As part of his reforms, Mr Chemello - in partnership with a five-member advisory panel - set up an internal whistleblower hotline, encouraging staff to share "inside knowledge".

"We needed to offer staff a way that they could air the organisation's dirty laundry, so to speak, within a safe, fair and responsible environment," Mr Chemello said.

"People needed to know that what they had seen or heard during their time at council could be reported in a respectful space, and would be investigated properly and with the utmost professionalism and privacy."

The report will say the hotline led to 118 complaints about former mayors and councillors and current and former staff.

While the direct actions of management were able to resolve many of the complaints, 51 of them were deemed serious enough to be dealt with under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2010, Mr Chemello said.

He said this equated to about 60 per cent of Queensland's public interest disclosures in 2018-19, "remembering that no other council had - or has since - actively encouraged staff to share their knowledge about potential wrongdoing".

Of the 51 PIDs, 46 have been resolved, with the Crime and Corruption Commission and the state's independent assessor having a role in many of these. Investigations into four others have concluded, and one remains under investigation.

Allegations raised by staff covered a wide range of potential corruption and misconduct, including:

•Failure to declare and/or manage conflicts of interest;

•Poor project governance;

•Reprisals against disclosers;

•Abuse of power/misuse of authority; decision-making without reasons for decisions and without record-keeping;

•Cronyism;

•Theft;

•Fraud - CV, timesheets, proper recording of payments received;

•Pressure on council suppliers to provide free and discounted services to employee in private capacity when employee had decision-making influence over the supplier's engagement

•Unauthorised access to emails;

•Failure to protect confidentiality; breach of information privacy;

•Sexual harassment and racial discrimination;

•Breaches or flouting of procurement rules, including co-opting of others or turning a blind eye, or insufficient diligence to enforce rules (tolerance of rule-bending);

•Improper use of council issued credit cards;

•Adequacy of policy and procedures regarding issue and withdrawal of Penalty Infringement Notices;

•Adequacy of policy and procedures in animal management;

•Manipulation of HR processes, for example show cause or performance management to bully/harass/reprise; collusion to manufacture evidence against employee.

Mr Chemello said as a result of the whistleblower investigations, a number of people are no longer employed by council.

"At my first address to council staff way back in early September 2018, I said that it was essential that we deal with any outstanding issues now, and not sweep them under the carpet," he said.

"It was important that we did that, but also important that we did that in the appropriate way, treating each investigation with the confidentiality and sensitivity it deserved."

In his final report, Mr Chemello said: "Importantly for ratepayers, no council employee who exited as a result of these investigations was paid any sum outside their specific legal entitlements under either their employment contract or relevant enterprise bargaining agreement.

"No-one was 'bought out' to leave."