Former IT minister not worried about Qld Health payroll inquiry

Former Queensland Labor IT Minister Robert Schwarten, who oversaw the health payroll debacle, isn't worried about the upcoming commission of inquiry and has said that his hands are clean.
Written by AAP , Contributor and  Michael Lee, Contributor

The former state IT minister who was in charge of the IBM payroll project for Queensland Health says that he isn't worried about having to testify at an inquiry set up by the Newman government.

Yesterday, Premier Campbell Newman announced a AU$5 million commission of inquiry into Queensland Health's bungled payroll system, to be headed by retired Court of Appeal Judge Richard Chesterman QC.

The payroll system saw thousands of public servants underpaid, overpaid, or left unpaid, after a flawed IBM computer system was introduced in March 2010 by the former Labor government.

IBM has said that it will actively participate in the full scope of the commission of inquiry.

The inquiry will look at who could be held responsible for the bungle, which has been estimated to have cost the state AU$1.2 billion, and could potentially call on former Labor government ministers to give evidence.

But former Labor IT Minister Robert Schwarten, who was in charge of the system's rollout, has said that he's "a million percent confident" that he has nothing to worry about, and will happily cooperate with the inquiry if required.

"I've got three things: a clear memory, a clear conscience, and a clean pair of hands," he told the Australian Associated Press.

"This inquiry is just to create a sideshow to draw attention from [Newman's] abysmal performance over the past eight months."

This view has been shared by the Queensland Nurses' Union, who are still furious over job cuts made to 1,537 of its front-line staff and consider that, given the previous nine inquiries, the state does not need another one.

But Health Minister Lawrence Springborg is pushing ahead for the inquiry, stating that most of those who are opposing the enquiry are simply arguing for a cover up.

He said that the inquiry was "absolutely necessary" and might open an avenue that isn't currently available for legal action to help recover funds.

"Our chance of success may very much depend on yet-to-be-discovered facts," Springborg said.

Newman said that the all-encompassing inquiry would protect whistleblowers who wanted to speak out, but were too scared.

"There are people out there who are saying ... that they have something to say, but they're frightened about how they may end up being treated if they were to come forward," he said.

While the inquiry will look at who was to blame and what actions the government can take, it does not represent the full extent of its scope. Queensland Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie highlighted that the inquiry will also focus on how adequate the government's current procurement provisions are and ensure that a repeat of the incident does not reoccur.

Acting Opposition Leader Tim Mulherin has said that the government needs to release its legal advice for the inquiry.

"If there is advice to the contrary, one would question the need for an inquiry," he told reporters in Brisbane.

The government has said that there has been AU$150 million in unfunded costs this year to fix the payroll system, and that has led to 1,500 Queensland Health job losses.

Chesterman is due to hand down his report by April 30.

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