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Vickie Chapman should stand aside, says former DPP

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The state’s former top prosecutor says Attorney-General Vickie Chapman should stand down pending an investigation by the Director of Public Prosecutions into whether she breached the state’s ICAC Act.

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Chapman yesterday confirmed SA Police had handed their investigation over to DPP Adam Kimber, who had “briefed the matter to external counsel to avoid any perception of conflict”.

The DPP’s office said today that it would not have any input into the external counsel’s advice “nor will it provide any opinion of its own in relation to the matter”.

The investigation centred around comments the Attorney made linking the Independent Commission Against Corruption to matters concerning the state’s urban renewal authority, Renewal SA, last year.

In September, Chapman issued a media statement after Planning Minister Stephan Knoll refused to answer questions in an estimates hearing about senior staff at the agency going on sudden leave.

The statement confirmed the Attorney 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” .

Lander later issued a terse statement authorising media to publish the Attorney’s comments.

However, he later told InDaily he had instructed Chapman not to refer to his office in any public statement.

“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 in a statement.

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

The Labor Opposition later referred to matter to SAPOL, with Chapman telling parliament yesterday that “the matter has been referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions for assessment.”

She has refused to stand down – despite fevered calls from the Opposition – saying : “I will continue to perform my duties as Attorney-General, which includes working with the [DPP] and the Police Commissioner”.

But Kimber’s predecessor, Stephen Pallaras, says “if people were following the conventions of the Westminster tradition of ministerial responsibility she would stand down – and should stand down”.

However, he added, “the reality of it is in Australia, the principle of ministerial responsibility is rarely, if ever, embraced or acted upon… ministers need to be removed with a crowbar”.

“The truth is she should [stand down], but she won’t,” he told InDaily.

Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas said the provisions of the DPP Act meant that Chapman now had an “unprecedented conflict of interest” and it was untenable for her to continue as Attorney-General.

“The Attorney-General, Vickie Chapman, has the power to direct the DPP who is currently considering laying charges against her,” he told a media conference.

“That is not a perceived conflict of interest – that is an absolute conflict of interest, which is why it is essential that the Attorney-General stand aside pending the outcome of the DPP’s considerations.”

The DPP Act says that while the DDP is “entirely independent of direction or control by the Crown or any Minister or officer of the Crown”, it also states that “the Attorney-General may, after consultation with the Director, give directions and furnish guidelines to the Director in relation to the carrying out of his or her functions”.

Malinauskas said that the situation had led to a crisis within the state’s legal system and Chapman should either stand aside or be removed by the Premier.

While the DPP has appointed an external counsel to assess the case, Labor wants the identity of that person to be revealed along with the exact nature of the external counsel’s role and delegated authority.

Current DPP Adam Kimber will leave the post in April after Chapman decided to advertise his position as his current term came to an end, rather than reappointing him to the position. Labor has questioned whether she should retain her role in the selection process.

Acting DPP Sandi McDonald said in a statement today: “I confirm that SAPOL have sought an opinion from my Office in relation to an alleged breach of the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Act, 2012 by the Attorney-General.”

“The Office has sought an opinion from external Counsel in this matter. The opinion is yet to be provided. Once it is received, it will be forwarded to SAPOL for their consideration.

“It is not uncommon for this Office to seek an opinion from external Counsel in circumstances in which there may be a perceived conflict.

“Consistent with that approach, this Office will have no input into the advice of external Counsel, nor will it provide any opinion of its own in relation to the matter.”

ICAC Commissioner Lander declined to comment today.

But Pallaras said he didn’t see a “legal” conflict of interest for Chapman, saying: “I think the legal position is that there’s no conflict.”

“I think the Act creating the DPP clearly says a director is independent of any politician,” he said.

However, he added the reality, “particularly in this state”, has shown a level of political intervention in the office.

“I don’t technically think there’s a conflict, however, the reality is that’s not how it’s worked,” he said.

Chapman has refused to comment today.

She reiterated under Opposition questioning in parliament yesterday that “I am satisfied that there has been no breach of the [ICAC] act [but] notwithstanding that, proper processes are entitled to be made… where the independent agencies, including the police and DPP, are charged with a statutory responsibility that they should not be interfered with”.

“We do respect process, I respect process, and this position will continue to be my position and will continue to have the support from me in relation to the proper and appropriate inquiries of those agencies,” she said.

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