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EXCLUSIVE: ICAC slams Attorney-General over Renewal SA statement

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EXCLUSIVE | Anti-corruption commissioner Bruce Lander has lobbed a grenade at the Liberal Government, telling InDaily Attorney-General Vickie Chapman contravened an express agreement not to mention ICAC in a public statement she made about the controversy plaguing Renewal SA.

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Mystery has surrounded the state’s urban renewal authority since a statement from Planning Minister Stephan Knoll on Tuesday – repeated in parliament yesterday – that its CEO “and one other executive” were currently on leave and that he had appointed General Manager of Corporate Services Damian De Luca as Acting Chief Executive.

After Knoll refused to elaborate during a tense estimates hearing in parliament yesterday, Chapman released a statement of her own – which at the time InDaily was unable to publish on legal advice.

However, Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Bruce Lander later released his own statement, authorising media to publish Chapman’s comments.

The Attorney’s statement said that in “respect of questions about Renewal SA executives… I confirm that I have enquired of the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption, Mr Bruce Lander QC, as to whether there is any further information that can be made available on this matter”.

“He confirmed that there is not,” Chapman said in the statement.

“The Commissioner at this stage will not be making a public statement on the matter.”

The release prompted questions to Premier Steven Marshall at a media conference today about whether his Attorney-General had contravened the secrecy provisions of the ICAC Act by releasing her statement.

“I wouldn’t think so,” Marshall replied.

“Vickie’s a very capable Attorney-General – I’m sure she sought advice before she made any comment.”

He referred further questions to Lander.

InDaily today asked Lander’s office by email whether the Commissioner believed Chapman’s release “was in itself a breach of the ICAC Act”, and, if so, whether he has communicated this opinion to her or her office.

In response, the Commissioner told InDaily in a statement that he had “received a request to speak to the Attorney-General by telephone yesterday afternoon”.

“My recollection of the subsequent conversation is that any statement made by the Attorney would not include reference to the ICAC and that the Attorney would say publicly that neither she nor the government could comment,” he said.

“I told her that I would not be making a statement.”

Chapman’s own statement – referencing ICAC – was distributed to media at 2.17pm yesterday. Around an hour later her office contacted various media outlets to suggest that it was not suitable for publication.

Lander told InDaily today that after he became aware of Chapman’s statement to media “I requested my Chief Executive to communicate with the Attorney’s office in relation to my recollection of the conversation”.

“I was not intending to make a statement but in light of the Attorney’s statement I was of the view that I should state my position and authorise the publication of the Attorney’s public statement,” he said.

The revelation could have serious ramifications for the Marshall Government’s relationship with the state’s peak integrity agency, and will place the Attorney-General’s actions in the spotlight.

InDaily has sought a response from Chapman. It is believed she is currently in a regional electorate and may be out of phone range.

Lander did not specifically address the question today of whether Chapman had breached the secrecy provisions of the ICAC Act by distributing her own statement to media.

Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Bruce Lander. Photo: AAP/David Mariuz

In his statement yesterday authorising media to publish Chapman’s comments about Renewal SA, Lander said he had only once previously made a public statement “in respect of a corruption investigation where I identified the person [who was] the subject of the investigation but where the person was not charged”.

“That public statement was made at the request of the person [who was] the subject of the investigation and after the investigation had concluded,” he continued.

“Otherwise I have not previously identified anyone [who is] the subject of an investigation during the course of an investigation until after the person has been charged.

“The ICAC Act is designed in such a way that a person [who is] the subject of a corruption investigation ought not suffer reputational harm until such time the person is charged.

“The very purpose of an investigation is to collect evidence. The fact of an investigation is not proof that corruption has occurred. Corruption investigations must be conducted in private. I think that is appropriate.”

Lander said if he “were to make a further statement in respect of this matter there would be an expectation that I would do so in respect of all matters that I might be investigating”, which “would be inconsistent with the legislation under which I operate”.

“For that reason I will not make any further statement at this time,” he said yesterday.

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