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Labor demands Attorney-General stand down over ICAC questions

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The State Opposition has demanded Attorney-General Vickie Chapman stand down pending a judicial review, as the Government’s silence on whether she broke the law extends into a fifth day.

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Chapman is yet to respond to questions and interview requests since InDaily revealed on Friday that she was at odds with the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption, Bruce Lander.

UPDATE: The Attorney-General responded to inquiries around 4.30pm today; click this link for coverage of her response.

Lander revealed he had told Chapman not to reference ICAC in a public statement she published the previous day – which referenced ICAC.

The revelation has intensified Opposition questions about whether or not the Attorney-General breached the ICAC Act when she published her Thursday statement “in respect of questions about Renewal SA executives that the Government has received”.

The statement, which Lander subsequently authorised media to publish, said Chapman had “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,” it continued.

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

In response to questions from InDaily as to whether Chapman’s statement was in breach of the Act, Lander said on Friday that he had “received a request to speak to the Attorney-General by telephone”.

“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,” Lander said in emailed comments.

“I told her that I would not be making a statement. After I became aware of the Attorney’s statement 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.”

InDaily has asked Chapman’s office several times since Friday whether she denied she had breached the secrecy provisions of the ICAC Act, which prohibits the publication of information that tends to suggest a person is the subject of an ICAC inquiry without the consent of the commissioner.

She is yet to respond – despite Planning Minister Stephan Knoll specifically referring questions about the matter to her on the weekend.

“I think the Attorney-General is the first law officer of the state… she’s the most appropriate person to be able to answer questions in relation to the administration of the ICAC Act… and I’ll have to refer you to the Attorney-General,” he told reporters on Saturday.

InDaily again asked Lander today whether he believed the Attorney had breached the ICAC Act.

An ICAC spokesperson responded that “the Commissioner is of the view that it is not appropriate for him to publicly offer a legal opinion as to whether any person has committed any offence”.

“He has never before offered such opinion publicly as that is not his role,” they said.

The Labor Opposition on Saturday said they had written to Police Commissioner Grant Stevens asking him to determine if Chapman has breached the Act.

Asked on ABC Radio Adelaide this morning whether SAPOL was “looking into whether or not the Attorney-General broke the law”, Stevens replied: “At this point in time, no.”

However, he refused to be drawn any further, saying: “I don’t want to be difficult to get along with, but I have no intentions of speaking about any matter we would be dealing with that relates to the ICAC.”

“The ICAC Act is very specific and I will get advice before I make any comment in a public context in relation to any matters that we may or may not be investigating,” he said.

Labor is now calling for an independent judicial inquiry to investigate whether Chapman broke the law, with Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas telling reporters today “it is appropriate for the Attorney-General to stand aside until these matters are resolved”.

Malinauskas said the situation was “largely unprecedented in SA”.

“The Opposition has thought through this very carefully… it’s not something we’ve done before,” he said of his call for Chapman to stand down.

“We do not take this decision lightly [but] these events are somewhat extraordinary… it is simply untenable to have a situation where the Attorney-General of the state has questions hanging over them about whether or not they have broken the law.”

Health Minister Stephen Wade – a former Shadow Attorney-General – fronted media on other matters today, telling reporters “I think Labor is just continuing to try and play politics”.

“The only point I’d make is the ICAC Commissioner has authorised the Attorney-General’s comments,” he replied to a question about the call for her to stand down.

Chapman’s last public statement came on Friday morning – before Lander’s comments suggesting she went against his instructions not to mention the ICAC in any public statement.

At the time, she told FIVEaa: “Yesterday I made some inquiry to the Commissioner, Mr Lander, because he is the highest integrity body person we have in the state.”

“I sought his advice as to how as a Government we should manage these things. He confirmed that there should be no public statement in relation to matters such as this question of Renewal SA and we abide by that.

“I made inquiry, I sought advice from the Commissioner… I had his permission to indicate that I’d sought his advice and that our Government shouldn’t make any further statement in relation to that matter.

“I didn’t detail in my statement on that as to what, if anything, was before Mr Lander… but if he got advice from his own lawyers or whatever as to whether they should be nervous about making some statement, well he can get his own advice on those things.

“But that statement’s been made… it’s been confirmed by the Commissioner, who of course with his own discretion makes that public statement if he sees it’s appropriate and in a public interest [so] I don’t see [anything] inconsistent with that at all.”

Veteran Channel 7 reporter and radio broadcaster Mike Smithson told FIVEaa on Friday the Attorney-General’s office had told him initially there was “no problem” in publishing Chapman’s original statement, but that he was advised against doing so by the network’s lawyer.

“I went back to the Attorney’s office and they said, ‘no, there is no problem at all’… five minutes later I got a call back from the same person in the Attorney’s office saying, ‘no, there is a big problem – don’t publish it’… then [later] Bruce Lander put out a statement,” Smithson said.

“If we’re talking confusion – I’ve been covering politics for 25 years and I’ve never been as confused as I was [on Thursday] about… the public’s right to know.”

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