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Lander open to ICAC law reform after Renewal SA debacle

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EXCLUSIVE | Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Bruce Lander has told InDaily a change to the laws governing his integrity agency “needs to be considered” after questions about Renewal SA prompted a farcical communication breakdown last week.

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It comes as Attorney-General Vickie Chapman refuses to reveal her version of the conversation she had with Lander last week before she released a statement referring to ICAC in the context of questions about the absence of key Renewal SA executives – a reference the commissioner says he told her not to make.

Chapman insists she has Crown Law advice that “no breach of the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Act 2012 has occurred” – although she refused to release the advice publicly.

But speaking to InDaily today, she refused to be drawn on the conversation with Lander that preceded her public statement last Thursday, in which she stated she 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 [and] he confirmed that there is not”.

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

Her office originally told media the statement could be published, however, it contacted outlets later in the day to say it was not suitable for publication.

Lander later sent out his own statement authorising media to publish the Attorney’s comments, but noted that “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”.

Attorney-General Vickie Chapman flanked by Premier Steven Marshall in April. Photo: David Mariuz / AAP

The following day, the Commissioner told InDaily that he had understood from his conversation with Chapman 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”.

Asked by InDaily today about her recollection of the conversation, Chapman said: “Well, I’m not going to answer that.”

“I don’t disclose any detail of conversations with the Commissioner, of any of the meetings I have with him or the conversations with him,” she said.

“All conversations I have with him are confidential.”

I don’t make a statement in relation to any conversations with Mr Lander and I’m not going to make this an exception

Pressed on whether she believed she had authorisation to refer to the ICAC in her public statement, she said: “You may have that question… I’m simply indicating to you that’s the position I’ve taken on it.”

“I’m not going to be disclosing any matters I discussed with Mr Lander… I don’t make a statement in relation to any conversations with Mr Lander and I’m not going to make this an exception.”

She said the Opposition had written to Crown Solicitor Michael Wait on the weekend asking him to rule as to whether the Attorney-General had broken the law by publishing her statement. The Opposition provided the letter to InDaily on request.

“I spoke to [the Crown Solicitor] over the weekend about this matter, and said ‘[they] can’t require you to do anything, because you work for us [but] I want some formal advice on it’,” she said.

“In the course of the matter going to the Crown Solicitor, I asked for any advice about whether at any time there had been any breach… I have that advice and I’ve made a statement – and as far as I’m concerned that’s the end of the matter.”

She said she had received a “10-page opinion” which contained “very clear advice” with particular reference to “disclosure and/or publication”.

However, she said she didn’t know why her office warned journalists not to publish her statement after initially claiming it was legally sound.

“I don’t know… I can assume from what I was told there was concern from the recipients as to whether they should publish it,” she said.

“From my perspective, that’s a matter for your outlet to get their own advice… I don’t know the answer as to why there was some inconsistency in the advice about your publishing it, or anyone else…

“You know what my situation is – I had a conversation with him [Lander], I had the advice, I issued the statement… I’m saying to you, I don’t want to recount the conversation [but] I nevertheless made a statement to confirm that there was no breach of the Act.”

The ICAC Act was thrust into the spotlight last week, even before Chapman’s statement raised questions about whether the Attorney-General had breached the law, prompting the Opposition to demand she stand down pending an independent judicial review – a call Labor maintains today.

The debacle was prompted by Planning Minister Stephan Knoll sending an unsolicited statement to The Advertiser on Tuesday last week announcing, without explanation, that two Renewal SA executives had gone on leave.

Knoll refused to answer further questions on the matter in an estimates hearing on Thursday, with media given independent legal advice not to publish sections of the hearing, which was protected by parliamentary privilege – and despite the entire proceedings being streamed live on parliament’s public broadcast system and a transcript published in Hansard.

Stephan Knoll consults with Renewal SA’s acting chief executive Damian De Luca in the estimates hearing. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

InDaily asked ICAC whether the events and media commentary in recent days had prompted the Commissioner to reflect on whether the ICAC Act needs to be amended or clarified, “given the unusual circumstance whereby a minister cannot answer basic staffing questions and whereby media are unable to report on matters raised in parliament”.

The Commissioner is of the view that the matter you raise needs to be considered

An ICAC spokesperson said in a written reply: “The Commissioner regularly reflects on the ICAC Act and has on a number of occasions requested amendments to the Act to provide clarity or to improve operations.”

“His 2017/18 Annual Report has been printed and provided to the Attorney-General, the Speaker of the House of Assembly and the President of the Legislative Council, so there are no recommendations for legislative change based on the events to which you refer.

“However, the Commissioner is of the view that the matter you raise needs to be considered.”

Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Bruce Lander. Photo: AAP/Sam Wundke

The ICAC annual report, which is to be tabled in parliament later this month, does address the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption (Investigation Powers) Amendment Bill 2018 that is currently before parliament, the spokesperson said.

The bill – the introduction of which was a prominent election commitment by the Liberal Party after the ICAC was forced by law to conduct maladministration hearings into the Gillman and Oakden scandals behind closed doors – will allow the Commissioner to hold such hearings in public if he believes it is in the public interest to do so.

Lander will say in his report that “the Bill was in a form that I largely support”.

He will also address the Police Complaints and Discipline Act, which outlines SAPOL disciplinary proceedings and resolution processes for complaints against police.

“In my opinion there will need to be some minor amendments to the PCDA to make it work better,” Lander will say in his report.

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