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MP slams Chapman over 'political' KI port decision

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Planning Minister Vickie Chapman’s decision to reject a $40 million timber port off Kangaroo Island has been slammed as “political” by a crossbench MP after an assessment report deemed the project was justified – but Chapman insists she had no conflict of interest to declare.

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The plan by Kangaroo Island Plantation Timber has longstanding major development status, with an assessment report concluding that “on balance, the proposal can be supported subject to additional requirements”.

But Chapman, as Planning Minister, this week rejected the proposal after a concerted campaign from local opponents.

Chapman owns property on the island, from where her family hails – her father Ted was born there and represented the region as an MP.

SA Best MLC Pangallo and Labor’s Russell Wortley have claimed in parliament that she should have recused herself from the decision – a claim the minister has roundly rejected.

“I’m completely satisfied that there’s no conflict of interest,” Chapman told reporters today.

However, asked whether there was an independent oversight process to assess perceived conflicts, she suggested it was a matter for individual ministers to declare.

“In this instance, I’m satisfied that there is no conflict of interest in relation to the Kangaroo Island decision,” she said.

“I’ve concluded the matter and the decision’s been published.”

In a statement today, Pangallo called on Chapman to “reveal what advice she followed to knock back” the project after a “comprehensive 238-page assessment report concluded [it] was justified”.

“This is an appalling call by the minister as it has cost the island’s economy jobs and much needed revenue,” he said.

The report concluded the proposal “is justified as it provides an opportunity for the plantation timber on Kangaroo Island to be removed and a second rotation to be commenced”.

“Without a practical way to remove the timber from the island, the financial benefit of the timber product would otherwise remain ‘locked up’ with no economically viable means of taking the product to market,” it said.

“The proposal will also provide an alternative location and opportunity (subject to additional approvals) for other parties to import and export cargo from the island.”

Pangallo said many business leaders on the Island were “astounded by the minister’s decision”.

“I urge her to release the advice she used to knock back this crucial project – particularly given the State Planning Commission’s recommendation that the project should go ahead,” he said.

“It’s no secret the minister has generational, long-standing family, personal and financial interests on the Island – and I appreciate her passion for the place where she was raised… but her decision also begs the question – why have a Planning Commission in the first place go to such forensic detail assessing a project and making recommendations to the government, only to have the government totally ignore that expert advice and outright reject the project.

“The Minister needs to explain why she ignored her own expert advice from the State Planning Commission that the project should get provisional approval, subject to conditions.”

He said the decision would send “a disturbing message to potential investors that they still run the risk of not getting major projects approved despite spending a fortune on reports and applications – and having government agencies approving such projects”.

“I suspect this decision was a political one – not a rational economic one based on five years and millions of dollars spent on various reports,” he said.

“On one hand, the Marshall Government talks about creating jobs – especially in our regions – but then on a whim kills off 200 jobs, many more indirect jobs and tens of millions of dollars into the KI economy each year.”

Chapman said the Smith Bay port would have taken years to establish and would have been subject to onerous conditions, as recommended by the assessment report.

She rejected Pangallo and Wortley’s call for her to have recused herself, saying “people who have owned property, including members of parliament, on the island have criticised whether I have a conflict of interest, because of my commitment and love for Kangaroo Island”.

“That will endure – I have considered and made it very publicly clear I have no interests in either these ventures, or in any property interests near these ventures, that have been affected by this decision,” she said.

“Of course it’s very important for any government decision by any minister to be clear of any conflicts of interest [but] that matter’s been considered, assessed and determined.

“We have an obligation for all our ministers to declare any conflicts of interest… that’s part of our ministerial code of conduct, and that’s what we do.”

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