A former State Government chief executive says it’s “frightening and concerning” that bureaucrats have been “hung out to dry” over the Gillman affair for “delivering what they would have thought the Government wanted them to deliver”.
Rod Hook was ousted as the head of the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure last year, at the same time one-time Thinker in Residence Fred Hansen was shown the door at Renewal SA.
An ICAC report into the land deal yesterday returned a finding of maladministration against Hansen, who has since returned to his home in Oregon, US, and fellow bureaucrat Michael Buchan, who remains employed by the Government.
Hook told ABC 891 radio today “it does seem to me a little bit frightening and concerning as one who was a former public servant that they’re delivering what they would have thought the Government wanted them to deliver and was asking them to deliver, and they’re hung out to dry”.
“Cabinet is quite entitled to make the decision to bypass process and go down a particular path, that’s always been the case,” said Hook.
“I would think as a public servant you’ve got an obligation to point out the consequences of a decision cabinet wants to make, maybe to provide advice on the process they should use to get there, but at the end of the day cabinet can make a decision (but) it does seem to me like the two public servants involved, and Fred’s a long way away, he can’t defend himself, they’ve probably been hung out to dry in the process by the way it’s been documented, and I would think that they were doing what they thought was the right thing to do.”
Hook described now-Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis – who was exonerated of maladministration but forced to apologise for conduct documented in the ICAC report, including repeated foul language – as a “good” and “robust” minister in the year he worked with him at Infrastructure.
“I never encountered the sort of language that’s being referred to here,” he said.
The ICAC report paints Koutsantonis and his staff as reticent witnesses, with Lander noting that the Treasurer “was inclined not to answer direct questions directly”.
His one-time chief of staff Rob Malinauskas, who later left the Government to work for Santos, also came in for criticism.
“I got the impression that Mr Malinauskas was trying to paint Minister Koutsantonis in the best possible light,” Lander noted. “For example, he said that Minister Koutsantonis was not impatient. That evidence is contradicted by Minister Koutsantonis’ own evidence. Minister Koutsantonis admitted he was impatient.”
Lander details repeatedly asking Malinauskas why a cabinet submission on the Gillman deal did not document the fact the Renewal SA board had voted against the unsolicited sale.
“I then asked him whether it was his evidence that the Cabinet did not need to know that the Board had not revoked the resolution that the Adelaide Capital Partners proposal be rejected,” Lander recalled.
“I asked him the same question nine times but he never gave a straight forward answer to the question. Mr Malinauskas’ evidence needs to be considered in that light.”
The report notes that Malinauskas also contradicted his own evidence to the inquiry: “He first said that in a meeting of about one hour Minister Koutsantonis might swear 3 or 4 times. Later he said Minister Koutsantonis might swear 5 or 6 times in a half hour meeting. Later he said he swore a fair bit.”
He went even further as the interview progressed, saying Koutsantonis would “probably” swear 20 to 25 times in a “half hour to hour” meeting.
“Say it was a half hour meeting; yeah, say 15 to 20 times in a meeting,” Malinauskas told the inquiry.
But he subsequently made a written submission arguing that on reflection “Mr Malinauskas believes he has seriously overestimated the swearing referred to therein”.
“His considered statement is that Mr Koutsantonis would have sworn perhaps 15-20 times in an hour meeting, but Mr Malinauskas does not believe it was it was [sic] in an offensive or intimidatory way.”
That interpretation appears to be the crux on which Koutsantonis escaped a maladministration finding of his own, with the Commissioner determining “that his conduct did not influence the advice that he was given, nor that he drove the Gillman transaction in a way that pressured the URA to depart from proper process”.
But he continues to be dogged for his potty-mouth, with Shadow Minister for the Status of Women Michelle Lensink calling on her ministerial counterpart Gail Gago to “condemn the Treasurer’s use of highly obscene language in meetings with public servants”, which allegedly included “the c-word” (a suggestion denied by Koutsantonis).
“Mr Koutsantonis used language that is highly offensive to women yet the Minister of the Status of Women has been silent on the subject,” Lensink said.
Gago told InDaily: “The use of swearing in meetings with public servants is inappropriate – regardless of gender. The Treasurer has apologised for that.”
“Michelle Lensink’s release smacks of hypocrisy considering she remained silent when Liberal MPs David Pisoni and Michael Pengilly made offensive and blatantly sexist comments directed at female MPs not long ago,” Gago went on.
Pisoni got into hot water for written remarks on a draft media release about then-minister Grace Portolesi’s attire, while Pengilly aroused ire with his Twitter description of former PM Julia Gillard as a “real dog”.
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