It’s about leadership and culture – 30 Years since Fitzgerald: Ethics and public purpose

About this time last year, IPAA Queensland launched its new Challenger Seminar Series, designed to bring together experienced and forward thinkers to examine matters of great public interest, a thought-provoking series that challenge thinking.

The series kicked off with a seminar – 30 Years since Fitzgerald: Ethics and public purpose in the future economy – delivered in partnership with the Crime and Corruption Commission. CCC Chairperson Alan MacSporran QC provided a key note address and was joined in a panel discussion with Ian Stewart AO, the former Queensland Police Commissioner, and Cris Parker, Head of the Ethics Alliance at the Ethics Centre, Sydney. David Fagan, former editor of the Courier Mail and long-time observer of Queensland politics, served as MC and moderator.

The seminar explored the legacy of the Fitzgerald Inquiry, established in 1987 to investigate police corruption and organised crime in Queensland, and the current state of ethics across our some of our major institutions such as public services, governments, and banking.

Fitzgerald Inquiry (1987 – 1989)

Over three decades ago, Queensland was a different place. The tentacles of corruption had spread into parts of the Police Service and involved some politicians. Many honest police officers knew something was wrong, but their concerns were not taken seriously. It was not until investigative journalists such as Phil Dickie and Chris Masters exposed the dark underbelly of corruption through their media reporting that these serious issues received attention. Queenslanders were no longer able to turn a blind eye to the crime and corruption that was happening on their doorstep.

The inquiry, chaired by Tony Fitzgerald QC, lasted two years and featured 238 public sitting days and 339 witnesses. By the end of it, the game was over for corrupt police and politicians. Police Commissioner Terry Lewis was convicted of corruption, jailed, and stripped of his knighthood. The Premier was charged but not convicted, four government ministers were jailed and many other people admitted to corruption.

In accepting the Fitzgerald Inquiry’s final report from Tony Fitzgerald QC, then Premier Mike Ahearn declared that its recommendations would be implemented ‘lock, stock, and barrel’.

Alan MacSporran QC – excerpts from his address

Let’s just reflect for a moment on that. It embodies the courage and tenacity to take on deep complex problems. It reflects collaboration, commitment to the public good, a vision for reform, setting some things right and doing them better, and political will to do the right thing and get things done.

Those are the sort of things that are really indispensable in leaders right across the public sector if we’re to deal with the sort of problems that Fitzgerald identified all those years ago.

We must never go back to the pre-Fitzgerald days. Whilst I’m confident brazen corruption and police misconduct of the old days are gone, we face new challenges across the entire public sector. Advancements in technology and the ability to access vast amounts of information present significant corruption risks when confidential information is accessed and misused. Crime and corruption prosper when individuals put their private interests before the public interest. It’s that simple.

Building a strong culture of integrity is the single most significant action our public sector leaders at all levels can take to address corruption, and a strong independent agency dedicated to combating major crime and reducing corruption is absolutely essential.

The influence of culture and leadership on ethical behaviour

So what’s the same 30 years on?

      A new influential leadership must be established which is committed to excellent ethical performance and discipline.” Tony Fitzgerald QC – July 1989

      Building strong cultures of integrity is the single most significant action our public sector leaders at all levels can take to address corruption. Alan MacSporran QC – July 2019

The influence of culture and leadership, this is what ASIC had to say a couple of years ago, it comes down to really two critical features tone at the top and accountability. Can I say this, in my experience, whilst those things are absolutely necessary and essential components of good leadership and a healthy culture, my experience is that that’s not sufficient.

These days because of the background with Fitzgerald, people take for granted, as they should, that the tone at the top will be good. People don’t get to those positions these days easily without the appropriate understanding of the values necessary and a background of living those values publicly. So the tone at the top is usually as expected, is what’s required.

The problem is that there can be complacency that once you have the policies in place, you have the right attitude at the top, we’re doing our bit we think, and there’s a bit of a lack of attention to the detail down the line. Failures in my experience occur at the middle management level. They’re the people who are so busy doing their day-to-day work they don’t necessarily have the time or inclination to send the message from the top down the line. If they don’t, it doesn’t matter what your tone at the top is, it’s not going to affect or change a culture that undermines what you want to achieve in your organisation. Part of that culture is instilling the value that every employee from the first day on the job to the last day of the boss on the job, everyone has to share those same values and be engaged with them, understand them, and live them. That’s a daily obligation. You can’t just put the policy in the drawer, you can’t have the online tool that has people having to carry out the training and tick the box. You have to engage. You have to keep reinforcing that message.

A critical part of this is having people understand that they need to report misconduct. Not only that, their obligation to report will be supported if they carry out that obligation. They won’t be called dogs. They won’t be harassed and bullied. They won’t be denigrated. They won’t be career threatened. They’ll be lauded for having done their job in bringing to attention to misconduct. That’s the first step. The second step, the management have to take seriously the report of misconduct. Thirdly there needs to be publication of what’s happened in dealing with the misconduct.

Enforcing accountability

So how do you enforce accountability? We’ve got some new offenses that have been created on our recommendations – misconduct in public office, lobbyist code of conduct, and there are calls now that there should be a national integrity body. The problem with that of course is that the politicians are the ones who’ll have to put it in place and of course they’re the ones who potentially might have the most to lose by such a body monitoring their affairs. But I think the feeling is gathering momentum and it’s unarguable, it’s necessary. And really if you are not doing anything wrong wouldn’t you welcome a tick from an oversight body like us to say that? To give public confidence in the system?

The leadership lessons from Fitzgerald and the responses to the challenges that face us today and will face us tomorrow and the conduct are the leaders. Above all must have these things: commitment to the public good and for that purpose to build and maintain a positive healthy workplace culture. Again that is fundamentally important, I can’t stress that enough to you. They must also have the courage to take on the complex problems which means admitting that they exist and not leaving it to someone else to do the job, and ambition to not simply meet requirements but to exceed them.

You need people who are always looking for opportunities to improve their performance on a daily basis. If you behave that way and if you live those values, that’s catching. That’s contagious. People want to be behaving in that way and your presence here tonight, I think tells us that you already have these qualities. The tone at the top, as I say, is not a problem. You’re aware and aspire to build a public sector that all Queenslanders can have confidence in and be proud of. I know that under your leadership we’re all in good hands aren’t we.

Excerpts from the Panel Discussion (moderated by David Fagan)

Question – lan, you were in the police service through all that time. Was it as smooth as that?

The answer is really simple, no it wasn’t. It was the most incredible shake-up that we’ve ever had in the organization both then and now. I think there were a lot of mistaken views about the police service at that time. That broad brush of corruption went across everyone which was a bit of a shame because there were many good people and I noticed a couple of the photos with Cole Dillon, people like that in it, who were proven through their role in giving evidence in the commission that they had always been honest and ethical, but had been suppressed in what they were able to do in an organization that had corrupt leadership.

The organization – what’s changed, what’s different now compared to then? Alan covered off on quite a few of those things when he spoke broadly about the public sector and the sorts of values that we need. But if there are two things that I might touch on quickly.

One is transparency. I think as an organisation the Queensland Police Service is quite transparent in what they do. They regularly open themselves to the community in terms of explaining that, you know some officers been caught doing something wrong and have been charged, or have been stood down an investigation pending, etc. That’s done to build the confidence with the community so that everyday citizens like all of us can sit back and know, well they really do take their roles seriously. You can only have that through transparency.

The other, and again this occurred because of Fitzgerald, the process of promotion prior to Fitzgerald was based on seniority (as it was right across the public sector). So if you were prepared to move around a little bit, and I’m only talking about the Police Service, if you were prepared to move around a little bit and you kept your nose above water, you didn’t do something that was wrong, you could expect to simply move up the chain. There was obviously though a point in that at which the allegiances to certain people and the loyalty groups, I think probably came into play.

Even as a junior officer I could remember that there were certain groups of people who would attach themselves to one of the leaders in the organization or a rising star, and the loyalty was not to the Police Service or to the goals of our organization which obviously is serving the community. It was very much to that person on the basis that they would be influential in looking after them along the way.

The issue of promotion and certainly advancement through merit, I think, has been one of the greatest changes in the public sector. It certainly was in the Police Service. It took us to a point where those chosen for future leadership roles had to prove that they had the merit to be a leader with all the right qualities that the organization needed. I think that that one single thing has played a huge role across the public sector, certainly in the police, in getting us to where we are today. But like Alan noted, we’re still on the journey and there’s no doubt about that.

Question – Cris, you’ve come from interstate today and you’ve had a real cook’s tour of the last 30 years in Queensland. Do you like the look of it? Do you wish you’d been here for that?

It’s a bit better than the last couple of years in financial services [reference to The Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry, Dec 2017 – Feb 2019, aka the Banking Royal Commission]

Question – When you look at different sectors and compare with what you’ve heard of the public sector in Queensland, what do you make of that? Are the challenges the same across sectors, across borders?

Yes, I think the challenges are the same across sectors. For me the most remarkable thing that came out of working, particularly through 2018 in the Banking Royal Commission, once that entire year had gone and everything had been revealed, what was astonishing was that it was the people within the industry that were the most shocked.

The public expected it. The public assumed it. The public knew it. And I thought that really identified just how subtle and how powerful culture can be. But yes as I’ve been working now with the Ethics Alliance and different organizations, there are similar issues.

Question – Cris, you’re a Director of the Banking and Finance Oath. What is it?

The Banking and Finance Oath (based loosely on the Hippocratic Oath) says:

Trust is the foundation of my profession. I will serve all interests in good faith. I will compete with honour. I will pursue my ends with ethical restraint. I will create a sustainable future. I will create a more just society. I will speak out against wrongdoing and support others who do the same. And I will accept responsibility for my actions. In these and all other matters my word is my bond.

So the relevant thing to that is, it’s ‘doing’ words. Not, I am, I have, I will. It’s a continuous practice much like you spoke of Alan. Integrity, ethics, mindfulness of ethics, is something that you need to practice. It’s like a muscle every day.

The leaders of the banking finance service board had a sense that because they were CEOs of their organizations that when they announced to the people within their organization that they’d taken an oath, and that ethics and integrity was important to them, that everybody would follow. And they said please, join me, this is something we want to create.

And they didn’t. They didn’t follow. And if you look then around at the Edelman Trust Barometer whether you agree with that sort of barometer or not, it was very clear that trust was not in leaders. Trust was not in CEOs. Trust was not in the government, not in the media. I mean there’s basically been an ethical infrastructure breakdown. Media, our churches, our government, our corporates. Even sports.

So my role then started in 2014 and I started at the top because the tone does start at the top. So I got on the telephone and I called the governor of the reserve bank and I called the CEO and I called the chair of the big fours and I made appointments and said, this is something that’s really important. They said yes it is. The leaders were on board 100%.

This is where I would say intention is not enough. Because that was great intentions and we continue today very, very strongly and it in fact has picked up immensely, but it has unearthed as Alan said as well, the incredible issues of the middle management that have unfortunately been given the name of permafrost or culture blockers. Which to me is just a moral disengagement from leadership right there, and it’s dehumanizing which is part of the problem. But I’m sure we’ll talk about that more later. I don’t want to take up all the time.

Question – Alan, you described what had happened and the importance of the ethics and education that goes with it. But it’s also true that the CCC and its predecessor organizations have been backed up by pretty substantial legal powers to get that to happen. Can you get improvement at organizations without that legal strength behind it?

Well possibly not initially. I mean you can’t achieve cultural change overnight. It’s a thing that just has to be chipped away at every day of the week. We’ve been using those powers, I think appropriately, to uncover gross breaches of trust and the like and dealing with them. But all other organizations it’s an educative thing. And it starts as Cris said at the top, but it has to be daily plugged on, and on, and people to be seen to be living those values, to be promoting them, doing something about them. It has to be a daily thing and if people aren’t responding, over time and the culture changes, people who don’t respond will understand they’re in the minority and they’ll drift off. But that takes a long time. You change the balance of power within organizations, that doesn’t happen overnight.

Question – Can ethics be taught or are they more innate?

Cris It can most definitely be taught. In fact I would dare say it needs to be taught. 96 percent, I believe is the number of us, that think we’re ethical, and we are in our own minds. If I can just bring in a brief example of the wage theft in the hospitality industry with George Calombaris being caught for underpaying eight million dollars which apparently was just an oversight of systemic issues happening in his restaurants.
We are born with biases and we’re going to bring them to every decision that we make whether we want to or not. Daniel Kahneman would tell you that, he won a Pulitzer prize for that. So I think unless we become very mindful of what those biases and those blind spots are, and we have them, and then we can mitigate them. And so when they come up in situations we can at least be aware of them and work around them.

IanThe context in which your ethics are utilized, I think, changes throughout careers depending on what role that you’re doing. It doesn’t mean that they’re diminished at any stage; what we’ve got to do is continue to reinforce ethics and integrity into particularly decision-making but in all facets of what people do in those different contexts. We do it for our operational police in terms of how we keep them up to speed with their operational skills. There is no difference in doing the same for ethics and integrity and what that might mean at this particular point in your career.

AlanYeah I agree too David. I think that ethics can definitely be and should be taught. Some people are born with high ethical values. Most of us hopefully grow up in in decent families and instil those values in you. Some people are born with character flaws that’ll never be changed. But I quote the local government sector for obvious reasons, given the work we’ve been doing, and people there aren’t routinely corrupt. There are individuals who are, and they’ll be dealt with, but the sector suffers from a shocking lack of capability. It is the sector with the highest corruption risk and is populated by the people who have the least ability, capacity to mitigate the risk. That’s why education and training is so critically important.

The example I give is the deputy mayor of one of the councils said at the Belcarra public hearings, in all honesty and she wasn’t being deceptive. She said I’ve attended 32 council meetings to consider applications from developers who’ve donated to my campaign, the last campaign, and I’ve declared a conflict of interest on 32 separate occasions. But, she said proudly, I voted on each one of those applications in the public interest. And she was being genuine. She just did not understand something as fundamental as that and she’s the deputy mayor. So I applaud her for being honest.


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