Speaking exclusively to InDaily, Lander – whose seven-year tenure as South Australia’s inaugural Independent Commissioner Against Corruption ends tomorrow – broke his silence on his ongoing inquiry into the use of parliamentary entitlements by certain unidentified MPs.
Asked if he was investigating criminal matters involving the use of the country members allowance, Lander replied: “Yes – we’re investigating corruption, and corruption is criminal conduct.”
He also confirmed that corruption probe was focussed on “more than one” MP, although he said he would “prefer not to” reveal how many parliamentarians were being investigated.
The shock revelation will intensify the spotlight on State Parliament when it resumes next week, with MPs to determine whether they can invoke parliamentary privilege to block the release of key documents relating to the investigation.
Lander’s last public statement on the country members allowance issue came earlier this month when he noted in a statement that “some Members and their staff have not provided [requested] information… relating to claims made for this allowance”, asking him instead “to delay my request for documents and information until Parliament has determined whether or not a claim for Parliamentary privilege is to be made”.
That effectively handballs the matter to Lander’s successor Ann Vanstone QC, “to decide whether the investigation should continue and if so the course of the investigation”.
Asked by InDaily whether he considered the move a gambit by certain MPs to see out Lander’s tenure before trying their luck with his successor, he replied: “Probably – I think a few people are waiting for me to go.”
But he added: “They may genuinely think this should be a matter of privilege, or that parliament ought to have the opportunity of considering it in advance of providing me with documents… but it would be convenient, it is convenient, that that happens after I’ve left office.”
He told InDaily he believes the investigation “will continue” after his term.
“I would expect parliament will not claim any privilege, and it will continue in respect of some of the politicians,” he said.
He asserts his view that documents relating to parliamentary entitlement claims should not be found subject to privilege.
“The purpose of parliamentary privilege is to protect freedom of speech in parliament,” he said, noting “it picks up Article 9 of the Bill of Rights” which provides that the freedom of speech in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place outside of Parliament.
“I don’t think I’m impacting on Article 9 of the Bill of Rights,” he argued.
He also said the practice of some MPs to refuse to comment on the matter because it was subject to an ICAC investigation was not consistent with the ICAC Act.
“I don’t agree with [them doing] that,” he said.
“They’re entitled to respond, in my opinion, to questions from the media, [and] if they have any doubt about that, they can get an authorisation from me to respond – although I don’t think it would be necessary.”
Lander made the comments in a broad-ranging farewell interview, more of which will be published in tomorrow’s InDaily.
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