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‘C’mon, tough guy’: bullying allegations against minister spill over in Parliament

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Sport Minister Corey Wingard says he welcomes an investigation into bullying allegations levelled against him, as a fiery exchange on the matter erupted in State Parliament this morning.

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Opposition transport spokesman Tom Koutsantonis asked Wingard in a budget estimates hearing if he had been told that he would not need to be interviewed by the private investigator appointed to probe his alleged intimidating behaviour.

Wingard responded: “No.”

“I have made myself available to the Commissioner for Public Sector Employment, as has my chief of staff,” Wingard said.

“I am happy to meet with them at any time… and I welcome that investigation.”

As InDaily reported last week, Commissioner for Public Sector Employment Erma Ranieri has appointed a private investigator to deal with a complaint against 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 about funding.

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.

Wingard has labelled the claims against him “unsubstantiated”.

During this morning’s budget estimates hearing, Koutsantonis referred to subsequent reports of alleged bullying behaviour by Wingard.

He said that during consultation with residents on the now-abandoned Hove level crossing project, a 71-year-old woman had accused the minister of being “extremely arrogant, bombastic, opinionated, overbearing… (and) intimidating”.

“Then another constituent of yours, who is 65 years old, said she attended a community meeting at a local football club to hear from you about the project,” Koutsantonis said.

“She said, ‘He doesn’t give you a chance to speak. He makes you feel uncomfortable and he is quite a bully really.’

“What do you say to a 71-year-old grandmother in Hove and Robyn Patterson, who is 65, in Brighton about them thinking you are a bully?”

Wingard attempted to respond, with Koutsantonis interjecting: “Are they lying?”

Wingard told Koutsantonis “I feel like you are talking over me here”.

Koutsantonis responded: “What are you going to do? Are you going to stand over me?”

“Are you going to bully me?”

The Speaker called “order” but Koutsantonis persisted:

“Come on, tough guy,” he said.

“It is okay to push around a 71-year-old woman? Why don’t you try that with me? Come on, tough guy… You are pretty cocky for someone under investigation.”

Wingard accused Koutsantonis of “grandstanding”, saying “I am surprised he did not drop the C-bomb because I know he is famous for that”, referencing historical allegations of colourful language used by then-minister Koutsantonis detailed in an ICAC report into the Gillman land sale.

Premier Steven Marshall said last week that he had referred the complaint from Cassidy 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”.

Marshall was asked on ABC Radio this morning if it would surprise him to know that the investigator charged with carrying out the investigation “has no plans at this stage to speak to either the Minister nor his staffer”.

“I just don’t get involved in that,” Marshall responded.

“We’ve got the Commissioner for Public Sector Employment in South Australia, I think she does an excellent job, she’s got good skills in this area.

“How she does her investigation, I’m not sure, but I’m happy to make an inquiry to find out whether that is correct or not. I certainly haven’t heard it.”

A spokesman for the Premier later told InDaily that any questions on the independent investigation should be directed to the Commissioner.

InDaily asked the office of Commissioner Erma Ranieri if Wingard and his staffer will be interviewed as part of the investigation.

In a written statement, Ranieri said: “I do not typically comment on ongoing investigations, but I believe it is now necessary to correct the public record on this matter.”

“The Chief of Staff will be interviewed as part of this investigation,” she said.

“It is also incorrect to say that Minister Wingard will not be interviewed.

“Upon receiving the investigator’s initial report, an assessment will be made as to whether the Minister will be required to provide additional information.

“This morning’s assertions about who will be interviewed as part of the investigation were not verified with my office.

“Investigations should be free of public commentary to enable due process, and for that reason I will not be making any further comment on the details of this matter.”

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