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Need for conflict training “a bit of a mystery”: McGowan

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The chief executive of SA Health says it is “a bit of a mystery” why he has been directed to undertake conflict of interest training, arguing there is nothing substantially wrong with how he has engaged with former employer Silver Chain in his public role.

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Meanwhile, a short time ago, Opposition Health spokesperson Chris Picton tweeted a photograph of an email purported to be from a Silver Chain legal representative, asking the SA Health boss to stop contacting Silver Chain staff directly.

Dr Chris McGowan defended his interactions with Silver Chain during a hearing of Parliament’s Budget and Finance Committee this morning, following the release of the McMillan report into his conduct.

McGowan was CEO of the private healthcare company for a decade before joining SA Health.

He referred himself to the Commissioner for Public Sector Employment Erma Ranieri for investigation last year, after InDaily revealed that he had been registered as the director of one of Silver Chain’s “dormant” subsidiaries during the first two months of his public tenure.

In subsequent months, revelations emerged that McGowan had repeatedly involved himself in assessing the merits of a Silver Chain aged care program when the company was asking SA Health to fund it in South Australia – and met with a Deloitte partner in circumstances in which “partnerships” between Silver Chain and SA Health had been flagged as a topic of discussion.

The email tweeted by Picton today is dated just under a fortnight after McGowan referred himself to Ranieri for investigation.

“I understand you have been in contact with Silver Chain employees by telephone today,” the 27 November, 2019 email reads.

“Please do not contact any employees directly.”

McGowan responds, according to the document: “Hi Amber. It is of no consequence now. Don’t worry.”

Picton said the document was delivered to the committee as part of McGowan’s answers to questions on notice posed at the previous hearing.

He told InDaily it seemed “incredible” that McGowan had, according to the document, been contacting Silver Chain employees directly after referring himself for investigation.

Ranieri outsourced the investigation to Emeritus Professor John McMillan AO, who found that McGowan:

But McMillan also found that both McGowan and SA Health handled conflict of interest matters “appropriately” and that contact with Silver Chain was a necessary part of McGowan’s job.

Ranieri subsequently recommended that McGowan receive training, from her, on “the avoidance of conflicts of interest” and “the avoidance of conduct that will reflect adversely on the public sector”.

At this morning’s hearing, Labor MP and committee chair Kyam Maher asked the Health boss: “Do you have any idea or insight as to as to why you might have been directed to undertake (training) in those areas?”

“It is a bit of a mystery, to be honest with you,” McGowan responded.

“I note that in the McMillan report, he says that: SA Health procurement decisions related to Silver Chain were properly handled by the department and Dr McGowan.

Proper governance arrangements were in place to eliminate actual, potential and perceived conflict of interest concerns. As Chief Executive of SA Health, Dr McGowan took an appropriate interest in programs administered by the Department, including programs involving Silver Chain.

McGowan expressed confusion about McMillan’s finding that it was appropriate for him to have contact with Silver Chain for the purposes of his job as SA Health chief executive – but that it was also “ill-advised” to meet with the Deloitte official.

“McMillan says North and South at the same time,” McGowan told the committee.

He repeatedly emphasised that he has had no involvement in SA Health procurement decisions relating to Silver Chain, adding that he had not shown any favouritism towards Silver Chain that the company received less money from SA Health during his tenure than it had during that of his immediate predecessor.

McGowan said that in “all matters of substantial consideration”, the report concluded that “there was nothing material that I did wrong”.

“I think the public will take great comfort if they read the McMillan Report,” he said.

You can read the McMillan report here and Ranieri’s letter to Premier Steven Marshall concerning the findings of the report here.

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