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ICAC clears ex-ministers among nine country MPs

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Three senior Liberals who resigned over the Country Members entitlements scandal will face no further action after the state’s anti-corruption watchdog today cleared them and six other MPs of any wrongdoing.

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Former Transport and Infrastructure Minister Stephan Knoll, Primary Industries Minister Tim Whetstone and Marshall Government whip Adrian Pederick all stepped down amid political controversy over entitlements claimed for staying in Adelaide while working away from their regional primary residences.

After claims dating back a decade were tabled in parliament, Knoll initially paid back almost $30,000 while Whetstone repaid around $7000 attributed to diary-keeping errors.

They, along with former Upper House president Terry Stephens, all stood down after former Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Bruce Lander declared he was investigating a number of MPs claims, and would widen his inquiry to examine the broader entitlement scheme.

But today his successor Ann Vanstone said in a public statement that she had determined to take no further action in respect of claims by nine MPs – including former Labor frontbencher Eddie Hughes and independent Geoff Brock.

In addition to Knoll, Whetstone and Pederick, ICAC has also dropped its inquiries in relation to fledgling frontbencher David Basham, Energy Minister Dan van Holst Pellekaan and Liberal backbenchers Nick McBride and Peter Treloar.

Whetsone told InDaily he felt “a sense of relief” at the ICAC statement and would “continue to contribute to a good Government”.

Knoll and Pederick are yet to respond to inquiries.

Vanstone said in a statement: “Shortly after commencing in the role of Independent Commissioner Against Corruption, I announced that I would continue the investigation launched by my predecessor, the Hon. Bruce Lander QC, into claims made by a small number of Members of Parliament for the Country Members Accommodation Allowance.”

“Additionally, Mr Lander required the Office for Public Integrity to examine claims for the allowance by all Members of Parliament over the last 10 years, she said.

“The Office for Public Integrity commenced by requesting information relating to claims by serving Members of the House of Assembly.

“At the same time my investigation has continued in respect of the small number of Members of Parliament.”

Stephens and first-term Narungga MP Fraser Ellis have previously declared themselves targets of an ICAC probe.

Vanstone said she had “considered the material collected by the Office for Public Integrity” and “given that the information provided so far does not reveal evidence of misconduct, I have decided not to widen those inquiries to other Members of Parliament”.

It appears some MPs have not been directly contacted by ICAC in relation to the inquiry, with Labor MLC Clare Scriven saying she has not been directly approached and had “never been under investigation at all”.

New Legislative Council president John Dawkins said he had received “one inquiry” in relation to “about two nights [connected to] one event” for which he had claimed.

“I’ve responded to that,” he said, adding he believed there was nothing more required of him.

Independent Mount Gambier-based Troy Bell has also previously claimed the allowance, but Vanstone said “no conclusion ought to be drawn in respect of the conduct of persons who I have not named today”.

“Due to the publicity that these matters have attracted, I think it is in the public interest that where I have reached a view on the information currently available to me that there will be no further inquiry or investigation of a particular Member, I should say so publicly,” Vanstone said.

She said the tight secrecy provision of the Act precluded people under investigation from speaking publicly when the inquiry had been discontinued but “in each relevant case the Member has been advised of the outcome”.

“My investigation of claims made by several Members is continuing,” she said.

“I will provide a further update when it is appropriate to do so.”

Lander told InDaily in August he was “investigating corruption” in respect of “more than one” MP.

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