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MPs refuse to release documents to ICAC's entitlements probe

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MPs under a public integrity investigation over the potential misuse of parliamentary allowances have refused to release documents requested by the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption, citing parliamentary privilege – prompting a warning that the inquiry may be abandoned.

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Bruce Lander last month confirmed his office was investigating “the conduct of a number of Members of Parliament in respect of claims made by them for payment of the Country Members Accommodation Allowance”.

He determined to broaden that inquiry to review “all claims for the Country Members Accommodation Allowance by any Member of Parliament over the last 10 years”.

It came amid a major scandal over the use of the previously-secretive scheme, with questions about the living arrangements and allowance claims of Upper House president Terry Stephens leading to the release of documents that implicated other Liberal MPs, including Ministers Stephan Knoll and Tim Whetstone, and Government whip Adrian Pederick.

All four of those MPs later resigned from their posts, along with veteran MLC David Ridgway, who quit after revelations he had signed blank time sheets for his chauffeur-driven government car while in Opposition.

Lander today released a public statement warning that a refusal by some unnamed MPs and their staff to cooperate with his investigation had hampered his efforts, leaving him unable to progress key lines of inquiry before his retirement from the Commissioner’s role at the end of the month.

He said “it will be a matter for my successor”, retired judge Ann Vanstone, “to decide whether the investigation should continue and if so the course of the investigation”.

“During the course of the investigation I have sought from Members of Parliament and their staff information relating to claims made for this allowance,” Lander wrote in his statement.

“Some Members and their staff have not provided that information to me.”

He said certain parliamentarians and their staff “have asked me to delay my request for documents and information until parliament has determined whether or not a claim for parliamentary privilege is to be made”.

Lander notes that “I do not think that the documents or information sought would be protected by parliamentary privilege” but concedes that is a matter for parliament to determine.

Complicating the standoff, however, is the fact parliament is currently in winter recess, with sittings no recommencing until September 8 – a week after Lander’s ICAC tenure ends.

“Although I am continuing to seek evidence and information from other persons and sources, the potential for a claim for parliamentary privilege has had the effect of delaying the investigation because I have not been able to examine documents and other evidence in the custody of the members and their staff, relevant to the matters under investigation,” he said.

“Also I have not been able to interview or examine the members or their staff.”

Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas said he had contacted Lander, who “made it clear that the requests he made thus far from Labor MPs have been fully complied with”.

He said frontbencher Eddie Hughes, who he insisted had claimed the entitlement within the rules, had been requested to provide documents and “he’s done so accordingly”.

“This is a substantial test of leadership for Steven Marshall,” he said.

“Every Labor MP has complied with requests of ICAC and if they hadn’t, I’d instruct them to – and if they failed to comply with that instruction I’d issue a sanction from the SA Labor Party.

“Steven Marshall just needs to instruct his MPs to hand over the information ICAC is requesting… he can’t accept a standard where he’s allowing his MPs to not comply with legitimate requests from ICAC for information regarding the country members allowance investigation.”

Malinauskas said the “question for Steven Marshall is, which members of his team are refusing to give ICAC the documents they’re after – and what have they got to hide”.

“Is Steven Marshall comfortable with having his own MPs not complying with legitimate requests of the ICAC to investigate the country members allowances scandal?” he said.

“He should not tolerate Liberal MPs failing to comply with legitimate requests of the ICAC.”

Asked about the issue after today’s national cabinet meeting today, Marshall said he did “don’t have any information with regards to that”, but “I expect all of my members to comply with the ICAC Act”.

“The legislation is particularly clear and I expect every single member of parliament to comply with those rules and legislation,” he said.

However, he noted that “privilege is something which is determined by the parliament itself” so “it would be a matter of parliament resuming” to resolve any impasse.

It comes after InDaily last month reported that SA’s Equal Opportunity Commissioner Niki Vincent has been unable to progress a separate proposed independent investigation into workplace harassment in state parliament because she was still waiting for parliament’s permission to launch the inquiry.

Further complicating scrutiny of the parliament in the fact a replacement Speaker and Legislative Council president can’t be appointed until both houses sit – with both positions causing consternation behind the scenes in Liberal ranks.

InDaily reported yesterday that veteran MLC John Dawkins will contest for the presidency in the party-room – and could yet nominate for the role without his party’s support if, as expected, he loses out to the Steven Marshall-endorsed Jing Lee.

Former Speaker Vincent Tarzia joined the ministry after last month’s unprecedented spate of resignations, leaving his former role sitting vacant, while Stephens has given notice he will stand aside once parliament resumes.

InDaily contacted several MPs who had claimed the country members allowance, but none responded to inquiries.

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