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Queensland whistleblower ‘vindicated’ by former Logan mayor Luke Smith’s guilty pleas

Henri Scott

July 10, 2023

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Original Source: The Guardian, Eden Gillespie

Sharon Kelsey, fired as Logan CEO after reporting misconduct, says Smith’s admission of guilt was a long time coming

Former Logan mayor Luke Smith has pleaded guilty to receiving a ‘secret commission from an agent’ in 2016. Photograph: Glenn Hunt/AAP

A whistleblower who was fired after reporting the misconduct of a former Queensland mayor says his guilty plea on a corruption-related charge is a “complete vindication”, while an integrity expert says those who dismissed her sacking should “hang their heads in shame”.

Former Logan city council chief executive Sharon Kelsey was dismissed in 2018 shortly after making a public interest disclosure to the state’s corruption watchdog, the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC), alleging misconduct by the then mayor Luke Smith.

The CCC charged Smith and seven Logan councillors with fraud over the decision to sack Kelsey but the charges were later dropped in 2021, triggering a review into the watchdog.

But on Tuesday morning in Brisbane’s district court, the former mayor pleaded guilty to receiving a “secret commission from an agent” in 2016 after accepting a powerboat from a party trying to influence his position on the council.

The charges related to Smith obtaining the vessel from a former director of SKL Cables, seven months after the company submitted a development application to the council.

Smith also pleaded guilty to misconduct in relation to public office and failing in his obligation to update his register of interests. He is due to be sentenced on Thursday.

Kelsey told Guardian Australia that Smith’s admission of guilt had been a long time coming, but is glad there is finally “some sunlight shining on the matters”.

“It’s just a shame it’s taken five years and in the meantime, it’s … had more than a significant personal detrimental impact on me, my career and, of course, my life more generally and for those around me,” she said.

Kelsey said the case had highlighted that “whistleblower protection is a complete fallacy”.

“I had made disclosures and I was required to do that as CEO of the council,” she said.

“If this can happen to someone like me in that role, it scares me to think [about] the future of public interest matters,” she said.

“Clearly the behaviour was criminal and yet, the response is to … victimise the whistleblower, and to essentially attack the messenger. It’s totally unacceptable.”

Kelsey has launched a defamation case against Smith, as well as lodging an appeal with the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission after she unsuccessfully sued the council, Smith and seven councillors over her dismissal.

“I don’t think you’d get any members of the community that would support the response that whistleblowers get and yet we tolerate it,” she said. “It’s been horrendous and it’s still not finished.”

AJ Brown, an integrity expert and professor of public policy and law at Griffith University, said Smith’s guilty pleas “put it beyond any doubt that former Logan council CEO Sharon Kelsey acted reasonably and responsibly by raising corruption concerns about Mayor Smith”.

“The failure of Queensland’s whistleblowing laws to protect her, despite the efforts of the CCC, reinforce the absolute imperative for serious reform to ensure this never happens again,” Brown said.

He said this should begin with the review of the state’s Public Interest Disclosure Act by Alan Wilson KC, which is expected to be completed by 30 April.

“Many of those in the local government community who dismissed Ms Kelsey’s sacking as simply an employment dispute should, quite frankly, now be hanging their heads in shame,” Brown said.

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Written By Henri Scott

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