UPDATED: Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis has apologised for using “conversational swearing”, after an ICAC report detailed his aggressive language directed at Renewal SA employees in a manner described by the Premier as “unprofessional”.
The former Infrastructure Minister was exonerated by the inquiry on issues of maladministration, but the report details exchanges peppered with high-octane expletives.
Koutsantonis fronted media this afternoon, describing himself as “a driven, passionate and outspoken MP … who approaches issues with a great deal of vigour and enthusiasm”.
“My meetings are a forum in which public servants are encouraged to speak up, debate and have their say,” he said.
“I acknowledge I’ve used inappropriate language within meetings.”
He said he also now recognised the “power imbalance” between ministers and public servants. But he denies specific accusations given under oath by Renewal SA staff of his use of the ‘c-word’.
“I gave my evidence, they gave theirs,” he said.
Nonetheless, he admits his conversational style was unbecoming.
“I’m a father of two daughters – this language is inappropriate and I shouldn’t be using it, and I will not use it again,” he said.
He wouldn’t buy in to questions about whether his exoneration of maladministration hinged on how his expletive-laden instructions were interpreted by his bureaucrats, saying: “It’s not for me to offer those opinions.”
Asked whether he used similar language in cabinet meetings amongst company free of that “power imbalance”, he replied: “What happens in cabinet stays in cabinet.”
Opposition Leader Steven Marshall said the revelations were “an ugly insight into the behaviour of the Treasurer of SA”, but fell short of determining he was unworthy of remaining in that office.
“I’ve never used that sort of language in a work situation,” he said.
Premier Jay Weatherill said earlier today that Koutsantonis’s behaviour was “not befitting a minister”, and he should apologise.
Weatherill said he was “disappointed” by the revelations of foul language and would demand Koutsantonis apologise.
“These findings indicate that language was used in front of public servants that was clearly inappropriate,” said Weatherill.
“It is unprofessional.”
In Question Time today, Weatherill said he had heard Koutsantonis swearing “only when we’ve been alone … pretty routine really”.
The ICAC report contained a transcript of an interview with Renewal SA’s former chief operating officer and later acting CEO Michael Buchan.
Buchan, whom ICAC boss Bruce Lander found to have engaged in “maladministration”, said Koutsantonis did not direct him specifically to engineer a deal: “It was more along the lines of a raft of expletives and followed by a ‘Pull your finger out and get it done for me’.”
“He would essentially swear at us as individuals and as a collective, as the organisation, and suggest effectively, you know, ‘If you can’t do these things, what do you exist for? Why are you here?’” Buchan told Lander.
“He would call you, um ‘what the f*** would I employ you for? Are you a bunch of useless c***s or not? Hurry up, get things done. For Christ’s sakes, what are you doing?’ Da da da da da. That would be the run of the mill meeting with the Minister.”
Weatherill said the alleged behaviour was “certainly not consistent with the spirit of the ministerial code of conduct”.
“I’ve spent an hour with Minister Koutsantonis this morning,” the Premier said.
Weatherill welcomed the ICAC report and made no apology for the Gillman transaction, saying he’d “absolutely” do it again.
“This is a piece of land that’s been laying there … for 30 years,” he said.
“The state was entitled to take the view that job creation was (a higher priority than) maximising the value of the land.”
This argument, however, contrasts with that of Planning Minister John Rau, who yesterday told parliament the primary consideration for the Gillman sale was “the price being offered by ACP for that land was good value, full stop”.
While Weatherill was personally exonerated of maladministration, he said he took responsibility for the appointment of former Renewal SA CEO Fred Hansen.
– with additional reporting by Bension Siebert
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