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Qld premier ducks backgrounding questions

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk won’t say if her staffers have backgrounded journalists and a prospective employer against outgoing Integrity Commissioner Nikola Stepanov.

The premier has faced ongoing questions about Dr Stepanov, who will finish in her role as the state’s lobbyist watchdog in July.

The Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) is investigating a series of complaints made by Dr Stepanov about senior public servants.

Her most serious claim is that Public Service Commission (PSC) staff seized a laptop from her office and wiped it in March 2021 without her knowledge or permission.

Dr Stepanov has also accused PSC chief executive Rob Setter of bullying and calling her “a bitch on a witch hunt” during a phone call. Mr Setter has denied the allegations.

Premier Palaszczuk refused to confirm or deny allegations that her own staffers had backgrounded journalists against Dr Stepanov.

“I understand that there may be matters before the CCC,” she told parliament on Wednesday.

Liberal National Party MP David Janetzki said legal firm Holding Redlich had also recently rescinded a job offer to Dr Stepanov.

He asked if any ministers or ministerial staffers had contacted the firm about Dr Stepanov, but Ms Palaszczuk insisted she didn’t know.

“If he can provide further evidence I’m more than happy to provide a comment, but I cannot comment on something I am completely unaware of,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

Opposition Leader David Crisafulli asked if premier’s staff helped prepare any of PSC chief executive Rob Setter’s recent media statements about the allegations.

Mr Setter released a statement in February in response to Dr Stepanov’s claims about the laptop.

In it he said at no time did the PSC “raid” or “seize anything from the integrity commissioner”.

AAP understands the Integrity Commissioner’s staff laptops are technically PSC property.

Ms Palaszczuk refused to confirm or deny whether ministerial staff had helped Mr Setter draft the statement.

“There are matters currently before the CCC and they know that the CCC can do their job and release their report,” she said.

However, the premier bristled when asked if her staff helped Mr Setter prepare for his media conference on Monday where he denied bullying Dr Stepanov.

She said she only read about PSC boss’s media event after it occurred.

“This is a once again an attack on individuals … an attack on individuals, that’s all you have,” Ms Palaszczuk roared at the opposition benches.

“That’s all you have.”

The premier suggested on Monday Dr Stepanov and Mr Setter “could sit in a room” and sort the matter out.

However, the integrity commissioner says she asked the premier’s department for mediation with Mr Setter on March 8, 2021.

Dr Stepanov said Mr Setter refused later that day via email and the premier’s department took no further action.

“The current director-general, Ms Rachel Hunter, was aware of my request for mediation shortly after the time it was made, and was also aware of Mr Setter’s response,” Dr Stepanov told AAP in a statement on Tuesday.

“I have had no further contact regarding mediation.”

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