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'ICAC could look into this': Anti-corruption watchdog open to data probe

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The state’s Independent Commissioner Against Corruption “would consider” an inquiry into allegations of website data misuse, after the Marshall Government today suggested the anti-corruption body could “look into” claims of privacy breaches.

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It comes amid allegations visitors to government websites have been spammed with Liberal Party propaganda.

Parliament today shot down an Opposition move for a parliamentary inquiry into reports visitors to sites including the Government’s COVID information hub had been redirected via external services hosted by the Liberal Party, raising questions about whether data was “harvested” – a claim Premier Steven Marshall has rejected.

Labor wanted to establish a committee to investigate the claims – but the move failed after crossbenchers Sam Duluk and Fraser Ellis – both of whom have suspended their Liberal memberships while they face separate criminal charges – voted with the Government.

Speaking against the motion, leader of Government business Dan van Holst Pellekaan dismissed the move as “an issue that the Opposition is trying to confect”, but insisted: “There is nothing to hide on this side of the chamber.”

He then raised eyebrows by suggesting various other investigative agencies were better placed to examine the claims.

“SAPOL could look into this, the Auditor-General could look into this, a privacy committee could look into this, the Ombudsman could look into this, and – perhaps most importantly – if there is actually any suggestion of corruption, ICAC could look into this,” he said.

“There are various ways that this alleged misconduct could be considered quite appropriately without going through this contingent motion, which is really just an attempt by the opposition to try to draw attention to what they allege to be true.”

Van Holst Pellekaan went on to speculate that “perhaps they are already doing it, perhaps they are already looking into these things if they choose to”.

InDaily sought a response from the ICAC, Ann Vanstone, whose office said: “The Commissioner would consider an inquiry if she reasonably suspected that the conduct could amount to corruption.”

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson said: “It is true that South Australia has an independent integrity framework capable of dealing with matters such as this.”

“The Commissioner would consider an inquiry if she reasonably suspected that the conduct could amount to corruption, which is criminal conduct for the purpose of the ICAC Act, or serious or systemic misconduct or maladministration,” they said.

“If the Commissioner considered the conduct did not meet this threshold, it is unlikely that she would conduct an investigation.”

The Government’s rejection of the parliamentary inquiry came just a day after the Liberals successfully moved for an inquiry of their own into “claims of bullying and harassment within the State Labor Party”.

That followed claims by former state MP for Elder Annabel Digance that she was told not to speak out against the use of a flyer in the 2014 election campaign that was widely denounced as racist.

Attorney-General Vickie Chapman said the Liberals – again backed by Duluk, while Ellis abstained – “have now stepped in to ensure these claims are investigated and the people responsible are held to account”.

The inquiry is expected to target Labor state secretary Reggie Martin, who on the weekend apologised for the flyer but insisted he never saw any racist connotations when he signed off on it.

Labor frontbencher Tom Koutsantonis told parliament ahead of the vote on Labor’s failed data breach inquiry that “the Government told us that people were not being redirected to [software company] NationBuilder and [domain] ‘stateliberalleader’ [but] that is not true – they were.”

“We know that through that redirection cookies are installed on browsers – that is what NationBuilder does,” he claimed.

“People have gone to state government sites and have had their browsers implanted with cookies from NationBuilder on behalf of the Liberal Party.”

Koutsantonis said that “if data has been stolen and harvested people’s careers will end” – but added if there was nothing to hide, there was nothing to lose by backing the parliamentary inquiry.

The Government has emphatically denied any claims of data harvesting.

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