Queensland’s former electoral commissioner, Walter van der Merwe, was drunk in the workplace, absent without reasonable excuse, and seen in a compromising position “of a sexual nature” with an employee, an investigation has found.
Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath tabled a summary in Queensland Parliament of the Crime and Corruption Commission’s (CCC) findings into Mr van der Merwe’s time as commissioner.
Mr van der Merwe stepped down in February, two days after being stood aside when complaints were raised with the Attorney-General’s office.
The summary found five of the seven allegations against him were substantiated, including an incident where he was seen in a compromising position of a sexual nature with a staff member.
It also found he was intoxicated in the workplace and often absent without reasonable excuse.
The report said he also showed favouritism, directed senior managers not to regulate the behaviour of employees who were considered to be his friends and overruled senior managers in relation to other staff members.
“Van der Merwe routinely did not perform his functions as electoral commissioner when in the workplace,” the summary by CCC chairman Alan MacSporran said.
“An example given related to an incident where he was allegedly seen in a compromising position with a temporary employee — it is believed the conduct was of a sexual nature.”
The summary also noted a container of steroids was found when his office was searched.
The electoral commissioner’s role is to work with the Electoral Commission Queensland (ECQ) executive leadership team “focused on delivering electoral services that are innovative, respected and trusted by the Queensland community”.
Commissioner fined for steroid possession at work
Mr van der Merwe was fined $600 after admitting drug possession charges during a hearing at Holland Park Magistrates Court in Brisbane earlier this month, but no conviction was recorded.
The court heard on May 1, after he was suspended from his job, Mr van der Merwe asked a colleague for his items stored at work to be delivered to him personally.
CCC investigators executed a search warrant on his former office and seized his belongings, including steroids.
A Crime and Corruption Commission investigation found Van der Merwe “routinely” did not perform his duties at work. (Supplied: Queensland Electoral Commission)
Prosecutor Carmel Massingham told the hearing a search of his home also found needles and steroids.
She said messages were found on a mobile phone and iPad relating to the purchase of the drugs.
Ms Massingham said the total quantity found was 280 grams.
Defence lawyer Terry Fisher told Holland Park magistrates that his client has paid a big price for storing these drugs at his workplace.
Mr Fisher said he was using the drugs as a body enhancer as he was doing heavy weight work at the gym and has since undergone counselling.
‘Staff should expect a healthy workplace’
Ms D’Ath told Parliament it had been a difficult time for the ECQ.
“Those circumstances are by no means a reflection of ECQ staff more broadly,” she said.
“As a public sector agency, it is crucial that the ECQ always retains the full confidence of the Queensland public and that it reflects the highest levels of ethics and integrity in the important work that it does.
“Staff should also expect a healthy workplace culture that supports staff wellbeing.”
Ms D’Ath announced on Thursday afternoon Pat Vidgen had agreed to step in as acting electoral commissioner, starting Friday.
Mr Vidgen had been strategic engagement general manager with the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games Corporation.