The Weatherill Government frontbencher has also sent a legal letter to The Advertiser newspaper, his office confirmed.
Hamilton-Smith told parliament yesterday he had consulted lawyers over separate articles in the News Corp Australia newspaper that gave rise to comments by Liberal frontbenchers Stephan Knoll and David Ridgway, the former suggesting he had not acted “open and honestly” and the latter claiming he had “lied”.
“The false and defamatory accusations made by the Member for Schubert [Knoll] and Mr Ridgway are a disgrace and a totally inappropriate way to engage in public debate,” Hamilton-Smith told parliament.
“They will both receive letters from my legal representatives shortly.”
His office confirmed letters were sent late yesterday calling for an apology and “reserving his rights re further action”.
Ridgway told InDaily today: “I can confirm I received a letter by email last night and I’ve referred it off to my lawyer for advice.”
Knoll has not returned calls for comment.
It is an ironic turn of events given Hamilton-Smith’s Liberal leadership was cruelled after legal action was taken against him by former Premier Mike Rann and current Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis after he aired false claims based on erroneous information contained in the so-called “dodgy documents”.
Hamilton-Smith now sits alongside Koutsantonis on the government benches.
His action follows separate Advertiser articles published in December, the first of which, he argued, “implies that I failed in my duty to make public disclosure of ‘extensive overseas travel’ in my ministerial capacity”.
He said the newspaper was advised that his office had declared his travel costs to the Department of State Development, and that it was the agency that had “failed to publish the information” online according to ministerial guidelines.
“I had at all times complied with ministerial reporting obligations and proactive disclosure of overseas travel details,” Hamilton-Smith told parliament, arguing that the article and headline “gives the reader the clear impression that I had been less than candid in the provision of the travel information”.
He said in the same article, Knoll made “false accusations… that I kept my ‘travel costs secret from the people of South Australia’ and that I had ‘not been open and honest about the costs’ of my travel with taxpayers”.
“It was an oversight on the part of the department alone that not all of these details appeared on its website and there is no basis to the false and defamatory accusations made against me,” Hamilton-Smith insisted.
Another article the same month published a translated letter “disseminated here by the Friends of the Earth” that debunks “possible Taiwanese interest in investing in nuclear storage facilities in South Australia” as “false information”.
He said the article, headlined ‘Major Marty’s claim bombs’, “relied on an unauthorised English translation of a letter written in Chinese” and “contains a series of factual errors, based in part on the mistranslation of the Chinese documents”.
He said it also relied on an earlier misinterpretation of his comments that representatives of the Taiwanese Government “may” invest in an SA nuclear waste dump – a word later paraphrased in the paper to suggest they “would” invest.
“The Friends of the Earth group was seeking to debunk a position that I had never taken and refute a comment I never made,” Hamilton-Smith told parliament.
A subsequent tweet from Ridgway’s Twitter account suggested Hamilton-Smith “lies about nuke dump interest”.
READ: @theTiser today:
❌Health system in crisis
❌MHS lies about Nuke dump interest#saparli pic.twitter.com/wsPiAeN5G5
— David Ridgway (@ridgwda) December 14, 2016
“There can be no more serious allegation against a Minister of the Crown than that he or she has lied or engaged in any other form of dishonesty,” Hamilton-Smith told parliament.
“Mr Ridgway made no effort to seek information from me or my office regarding the content of the article… the record needs to be corrected.”
As of today, the tweet remains published on social media.
It’s not the first time claims of ‘lies’ have resulted in defamation action by one politician against another. As Opposition Leader in 1997, Rann famously sued then-premier John Olsen for calling him a liar at an impromptu news conference over his claims under privilege that Olsen had leaked material to the Labor Party.
By chance, Premier Jay Weatherill yesterday escalated tensions between his government and the federal Coalition over the simmering power debate, saying Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull “should stop lying about the cause of SA’s electricity problems”.
He said Turnbull had blamed renewable energy for last year’s statewide blackout despite receiving advice to the contrary and “when confronted about being caught out he lied about it”.
Weatherill told reporters: “He lied, and then he lied about lying.”
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