Legislative Council: Thursday, May 05, 2022


Ombudsman Investigation, Member for Bragg

The Hon. F. PANGALLO (15:06): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking a question of the Attorney-General about conflicts of interest.

Leave granted.

The Hon. F. PANGALLO: Contrary to the findings of a parliamentary committee led by one of the state's most eminent jurists, the Ombudsman found there was no conflict of interest when the former Attorney-General scrapped a port development on Kangaroo Island, the place of her birth, where she has significant property interests, is a close friend of the mayor, who vehemently opposed the proposal next to his property, and where she told The Islander newspaper in 2018 that she intended to retire, although Mr Lines reported that she had no concrete plans to live there.

Today, I received an email from one of South Australia's most respected former attorneys-general, the Hon. Chris Sumner, who said the Ombudsman's findings has set a 'terrible precedent', in effect raising the bar for government officials when it came to declaring private interests. Mr Sumner also went on to say that it has neutered the Ministerial Code of Conduct. Mr Sumner believed Ms Chapman did have a possible conflict. The Leader of the Opposition made a similar admission today.

In fact, myself and the Hon. Russell Wortley felt the need to disclose our own trifling conflict of interest on Kangaroo Island when we raised the possibility of the minister's personal interests and perceived conflict during a timber industry inquiry 12 months ago. Mr Sumner has called for an independent review of the Ombudsman's decision. My question to the Attorney-General is: apart from seeking Crown law advice, what other options are open to the government to review the Ombudsman's decision and its implication for integrity in government?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Attorney-General, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (15:08): I thank the honourable member for his very important question and his well-known interest in integrity and openness and transparency in government. The honourable member is right: it has been reported and it was I think on ABC radio this morning when the Leader of the Opposition in the lower house said, in relation to whether he thought there may have been a perception of a conflict of interest, 'At the time, yes.' The Leader of the Opposition in the other place, at the time, thought there may have been a perception of a conflict of interest in the decision that the former Attorney-General—I was going to say member for Bragg, but that's also in dispute at the moment—that Vickie Chapman made in relation to a planning decision on Kangaroo Island.

The PRESIDENT: Minister, she is the member for Bragg. She has been sworn in as the member for Bragg, so move on past that, thanks.

An honourable member interjecting:


The Hon. K.J. MAHER: I think, as the Hon. Frank Pangallo correctly points out, it is quite a remarkable thing, an admission from the member for Black, David Speirs, the Leader of the Opposition in the other place, to say at the time he thought there was a possible perception of a conflict of interest. It's remarkable that the opposition in this place and in the other chamber and outside the parliament are asking for all sorts of people to apologise for thinking that the former Attorney may have had a conflict of interest, when in fact that is exactly what the member for Black thought at the time. I'm wondering if the member for Black will be asked by his own side to apologise for his view at the time that there may have been a conflict of interest. It is quite remarkable.

The PRESIDENT: I know, minister, you are getting towards answering the question. I know you are.

The Hon. K.J. MAHER: Thank you for your guidance, sir. As has been outlined by the Hon. Frank Pangallo, a parliamentary inquiry was held. That parliamentary inquiry had a minority of Labor members on it. The majority was Liberal and formal Liberal members. The inquiry did receive help from counsel assisting, an eminent QC in South Australia, and it made certain findings that were presented to parliament. Of course, this week tabled in parliament, the Ombudsman put his views forward in a report, and on a set of facts has come to a different conclusion.

The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink: A very different conclusion.

The Hon. K.J. MAHER: The Ombudsman, as the Hon. Michelle Lensink interjects, came to a very different conclusion than the member for Black. The member for Black, the Leader of the Opposition, who thought at the time, yes, there was a conflict of interest.

The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink interjecting:

The Hon. K.J. MAHER: I thank the Hon. Michelle Lensink for reminding us all—

Members interjecting:


The Hon. K.J. MAHER: —that her leader in the lower house thought opposite at the time of what the Ombudsman has concluded. The member for Black, the Leader of the Opposition, when asked whether there may have been a perception of conflict of interest, said at the time, yes. So yes, the member for Black at the time disagreed with what the Ombudsman has found now. That's a simple fact and matter of the record at the moment.

Notwithstanding the difference of views between the Leader of the Opposition, the member for Black, and the Ombudsman's report now, there have been important questions raised. Many of the questions raised by former Attorney-General Chris Sumner have been not just emailed to some members of parliament but also well ventilated in an article in InDaily today. Some of these raised concerns are about these two different conclusions that have been reached—on one side the views and conclusion reached by the parliamentary committee, and the member for Black, and on the other side the views of the Ombudsman.

Having those different views, I think there is a need for further guidance. Premier Malinauskas has asked that I have some work done by my department to provide some clarity and some view and a process going forward, because clearly the issue of the opposing views between the member for Black and the Ombudsman does need some sort of clarity. That is the work that I have already asked my department to undertake.