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“Angry” Premier privately contradicted public statements on SA Health report: ICAC

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Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Bruce Lander says Premier Steven Marshall spoke to him angrily during a closed-doors meeting last week, in which he alleges the Premier contradicted his own public statements about the ICAC report into SA Health.

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Lander’s report, prompted by the Government’s refusal to fund the ICAC to conduct a full evaluation of the state’s largest department, described SA Health as having a culture and practices that enabled corruption.

After the report was tabled on December 3, Marshall told parliament he found the document to be “extraordinarily helpful” and said that “it’s a very important report, as I have stated publicly and repeatedly”.

“We thank the Commissioner for his report.”

But Lander said it was a different story when the pair met privately last Friday.

“He (Marshall) has said publicly that he found the report very useful – very helpful; that wasn’t what he conveyed to me though,” the Commissioner told ABC Radio Adelaide this morning.

“He said the report had put back the chances of correcting the problems in Health.

“I think he meant that the report was inflammatory.”

Lander told the radio program that in response: “I defended myself.”

“I said I thought the public had a right to know about this – that the public should know that a person in my position had reached a state of frustration in relation to an agency which had a budget in excess of $6 billion and that there was significant waste.”

Lander added that he was surprised by Marshall’s private comments “because he’d said publicly that it was a very helpful report”.

“He didn’t say to me in that meeting that he thought it was a very useful report, no.”

Lander went further in a press conference shortly after his radio interview, describing Marshall’s manner during the private meeting as angry and “forceful”.

You can listen to part of the press conference below (audio courtesy the ABC):

In his comments to parliament earlier this month, Marshall had also congratulated his own government for its transparency in releasing the ICAC report.

“There have been major problems in this department for an extended period of time … what is different now, and why I have confidence that we will fix up the mess of Labor, is that we are shining a light on this,” he told the House of Assembly on December 5.

“This is not a problem that we are kicking under the carpet; this is one that we are exposing.

“We have tabled the report at the very first opportunity. There has been no redaction in our document. It’s gone right out to every single person in this state.”

In a statement to InDaily this morning, a spokesperson for the Premier said he and the Commissioner spoke regularly and the government appreciated his input: “However, the Premier won’t be going into detail about private conversations,” the spokesperson said.

Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas said Lander’s comments had “dealt a devastating blow to Steven Marshall’s credibility”.

“Bruce Lander has called out Steven Marshall for saying one thing publicly, and the complete opposite privately,” he said.

“If we can’t trust Steven Marshall’s public remarks on this issue, how can we trust his public remarks on any issue?”

SA-BEST MLC Connie Bonaros said a Royal Commission was needed into SA Health.

The people of South Australia need answers.

“Premier Marshall has no other option – he’s now hemmed himself into a corner over the comments he’s alleged to have made to Commissioner Lander,” she said.

 “What is he afraid of?

“Why won’t he allow the most powerful, independent legal entity in the state carry out the investigation he wants into SA Health to determine the depths of corruption and maladministration he believes is happening within the department?

The people of South Australia need answers.”

Lander’s report said misconduct was “common and accepted” within the department, conflicts of interest were often left undeclared and unmitigated, and poor record keeping, and missing or vague documents, had undermined his own investigations into alleged cases of corruption, which had to be abandoned as there was little chance of successful prosecution.

“I am concerned that the governance and administrative arrangements in SA Health are ripe for exploitation by corrupt employees,” the report said.

Lander produced the report after warning publicly that the department was “riddled with maladministration” and very likely harboured corrupt employees – and complaining that the Government had refused his request made in August 2018 for $2 million to conduct an evaluation of SA Health.

The poor documentation within SA Health makes it very difficult to establish corruption and it makes it easy to engage in corruption

Last week, Treasurer Rob Lucas dismissed the notion that Lander was unable to successfully mount cases against allegedly corrupt SA Health employees because of poor documentation within the department.

“If you’ve had hundreds of corruption allegations … in relation to Health employees, you have both the budget and the power to require answers,” he told the ABC.

“I don’t accept this argument, with great respect, because I’ve seen how corruption commissioners here and elsewhere operate, that because of tardy bookwork, or whatever it is, it’s impossible to be able to prove whether corruption exists or not.

“A corruption commissioner has the power of a Royal Commission to require people to answer questions – even if the documentation is lacking, he has the capacity to sit (a public employee) down and say ‘right, you give me the answers and I demand them’.”

But in his radio interview this morning, Lander said that answers compelled by him during corruption investigations were inadmissible in court and therefore no help in securing prosecutions.

“In my experience, where there’s no documents and you’re examining someone in relation to their conduct they don’t tend to tell the truth (and) there’s nothing to contradict them,” said Lander.

“(However) if you think – it’s time now to tell the truth and you confess to engaging in corruption, to taking $20 million out of the system and using it for your own benefit, that evidence is not admissible in a court.

“He (Lucas) doesn’t realise that those answers in that examination are not admissible in a court – so I still don’t have any evidence after the examination – in fact, those answers should not even be provided to the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions).”

“The poor documentation within SA Health makes it very difficult to establish corruption and it makes it easy to engage in corruption,” said Lander.

“The ambiguous arrangements between clinicians and SA Health, and between other employees of SA Health also make corruption easy to engage in.

“There is too little formality about arrangements and therefore corruption is available to those who want to engage in it.”

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