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External investigator to probe Wingard claims

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A private investigator has been brought in to deal with a complaint against Sports Minister Corey Wingard and a member of his staff, after the head of the state’s peak grassroots sporting group claimed she felt “bullied and intimidated” after a meeting with the pair.

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Sport SA CEO Leah Cassidy wrote to Premier Steven Marshall last week after meeting with Wingard, claiming to have felt “instances of bullying and intimidation that I have recently experienced at the hands of your Minister for Recreation, Sport and Racing, Hon. Corey Wingard”.

The letter, which has been provided to InDaily by a third party, claims Wingard made “a deliberate reference to having looked into the finances of Triathlon SA, one of our members who had made a public statement about the partnership grants, stating; ‘yes I can see how much Triathlon have spent on trophies, staffing and event costs’”, which Cassidy believed was “designed to intimidate”.

“Triathlon have indicated that they were very intimidated by the references made during the meeting,” she wrote.

She said a staff member also present made her feel personally intimidated and “the Minister made no attempt to stop this behaviour during the meeting”.

She also claimed to have been uninvited to a subsequent stakeholder conference after lodging a complaint about the way the meeting was handled.

Marshall said yesterday he had referred the complaint to Commissioner for Public Sector Employment Erma Ranieri for investigation, saying Ranieri was “very experienced in these matters, so we’ll wait for her to come back with recommendations”.

However, InDaily can reveal Ranieri will not be conducting the investigation – although she will review it once it is completed.

In response to questions today, her office told InDaily: “An external investigator has been appointed to investigate this matter.”

“They have extensive experience working with the South Australian government and were appointed on the recommendation of the Crown Solicitor’s Office,” they said.

InDaily reported in April that the State Government was setting up a permanent team of private investigators to conduct inquiries of “any nature” at the request of public sector departments, which Ranieri told parliament this year would be “regularly used and of a standard”.

However, her office said today the investigator was a separate appointment, saying: “Their appointment is separate to the procurement process underway to establish a panel of investigators.”

Then-Speaker Vincent Tarzia last year contracted investigator Paul Hocking, a licensed inquiry agent of Reynella-based Quark and Associates, to inquire into an incident involving then-Liberal backbencher Sam Duluk, but the investigation was usurped when SA Best MLC later pressed criminal charges.

The Wingard meeting under investigation – at which Sport SA president Michael Wright, a former Rann Government Sport Minister, was also present – was called to air concerns – flagged in InDaily last month – about a new State Government funding model for sports grants that many stakeholders claim is “ripping the heart out of the sector”.

The new program divides $2.3 million between 19 projects, with applicants to “work with at least one other organisation to deliver their project”.

But state-run grassroots sporting organisations say the new grant model strips funding from their sector, diverting it instead towards big-money stakeholders, private providers and councils.

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