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ICAC investigation into Liberal MPs "to continue"

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The state’s new anti-corruption Commissioner has declared she will continue her predecessor’s investigation into three Liberal parliamentarians about their use of the Country Members Allowance.

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Ann Vanstone last week took over the role of Independent Commissioner Against Corruption amid high drama after Bruce Lander ended his seven-year tenure with a declaration that he had been investigating potential corruption relating to the entitlement of country-based MPs to claim an allowance of up to around $30,000 a year for nights spent in Adelaide.

Outgoing Upper House president Terry Stephens and lower house MPs Adrian Pederick and Fraser Ellis late last week outed themselves as the subject of ICAC inquiries, claiming they had undertaken to test whether some documents sought by Lander were subject to parliamentary privilege.

In her first public statement since assuming the ICAC role, Vanstone today revealed she had written to the solicitors acting for all three MPs, advising them that “in each case I had determined to continue the investigation commenced by my predecessor, the Honourable Bruce Lander QC”.

However, she said, she had notices issued under the ICAC Act “requiring them to produce documents” had been withdrawn.

“However, I asked that each of them voluntarily provide a narrower group of documents,” she said.

“In the cases of Mr Stephens and Mr Pederick, the documents I sought relate to proof of their places of residence at relevant times.

“For Mr Ellis, the documents go to his incurring actual expenditure during nights he stayed in Adelaide and also to demonstrate a requirement that he be in Adelaide on the occasions when claims were made.”

Vanstone said the documents now requested “could take various forms”.

“The solicitors have today advised that all three of their clients have agreed to provide documents to me as soon as practicable,” she said.

“In the case of Mr Ellis, an issue of parliamentary privilege might still arise, depending on what documents he discloses.”

The revelation comes a day before parliament resumes from a lengthy winter recess, with the issue of privilege set to dominate the opening hours of debate.

The ICAC’s statement may defuse that debate to some extent.

Despite a challenge from former Labor crossbencher Frances Bedford, Liberals expect their nominee as Speaker Josh Teague to win a silent ballot as the House of Assembly’s presiding member.

The Upper House ballot for president remains clouded, with long-time Liberal backbencher John Dawkins yet to declare whether he will challenge the Government’s nominee Jing Lee for the role.

If he does, he will likely find enough support to snare the position, but it’s understood Liberal MPs across the party have been counselling him against such a move.

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