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Wingard cleared of bullying, misconduct

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Sports Minister Corey Wingard and his chief of staff have been cleared of allegations of bullying and misconduct after an independent investigation, Premier Steven Marshall has told parliament – but the State Government won’t release the report in full.

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The inquiry followed a complaint about the behaviour of Wingard and his senior staffer Larissa Mallinson during a meeting with Leah Cassidy, the head of the state’s peak grassroots sporting organisation SportSA, and the organisation’s president, former Labor Sports minister Michael Wright.

Correspondence from Cassidy to the Premier that was sent to Public Sector Commissioner Erma Ranieri for investigation details “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 meeting was called to air concerns – first flagged in InDaily – about a new State Government funding model for sports grants that stakeholders claim is “ripping the heart out of the sector”.

But the inquiry, which was contracted out by Ranieri to a private investigator Andrew Hill, found that there was no case for Wingard or Mallinson to answer.

According to an excerpt from Ranieri’s recommendations cited in parliament yesterday by Marshall: “Whilst it is clear there was a tense atmosphere in the meeting and that opposing views were aired, there is no evidence to suggest that anything which took place in that meeting amounted to behaviour that could properly be characterised as bullying or intimidatory behaviour, as has been alleged by Ms Cassidy.”

“Rather, there was some strong criticism or accusations put forward by Ms Cassidy and Mr Wright and some strong responses provided by the Minister and Ms Mallinson,” Marshall said.

“Ms Ranieri has also advised of this meeting, and I quote: ‘Based on the available evidence and having regard to the context of the meeting, my recommendation is that I do not consider there to be a reasonable or proper basis for allegations of misconduct to be put to Ms Mallinson in relation to her conduct in the meeting.’”

Cassidy had also alleged that she was told by Sport and Recreation CEO Kylie Taylor, who Wingard says was acting on instruction from Mallinson, not to attend a Zoom meeting with the minister and other stakeholders after she raised the bullying allegations.

But according to Marshall, Ranieri found that “I do not consider there to be a reasonable or proper basis for allegations of misconduct to be put… in relation to this issue”.

“Rather, it appears reasonably open to conclude that Ms Taylor and Ms Mallinson reasonably believed that they were acting in everyone’s best interests by requesting Ms Cassidy not attend the meeting given her complaints were yet to be investigated or resolved,” she reportedly said.

The Commissioner for Public Sector Employment does not have the power to investigate ministerial conduct, but Marshall told parliament that the Acting Crown Solicitor “yesterday provided advice directly to me in respect of the Minister and any potential breach of the Ministerial Code of Conduct”.

“Based on her consideration of Mr Hill’s investigation of the Minister’s meeting with Sport SA, the Acting Crown Solicitor has advised that I am able to form the view that the Minister did not engage in conduct in breach of the Ministerial Code of Conduct,” he said.

He added that it “is not so far publicly known that it was Mr Wright who raised the Ministerial Code of Conduct at the meeting with the Minister on June 24”.

“Given this parliamentary and ministerial experience, Mr Wright could not have been unmindful of the fact that his action would provoke a response,” Marshall told parliament.

“I invite Mr Wright to withdraw any suggestion of dishonesty on the part of the Minister.”

Marshall said it was “in the interests of our recreation and sport sector that we move on from these events” and “accordingly, I have also accepted the advice of Ms Ranieri and the Acting Crown Solicitor to invite Ms Cassidy, Mr Wright, the Minister and Ms Mallinson to participate in some form of mediation or conciliation, with a view to repairing and improving their working relationship moving forward”.

Cassidy told InDaily she was yet to receive Ranieri’s report and could not comment until she had done so.

Ranieri’s office declined to provide the report, referring InDaily to the Premier’s office.

InDaily asked the Premier’s office several times yesterday if the report was to be publicly released, and if not why not.

Just after 9.30pm, they responded that “it would be inappropriate for all parties for the report to be released in full by the Government”.

“The findings of the report have been clearly and accurately released.”

Opposition spokesman Tom Koutsantonis said he was “entirely not surprised that a government-funded, government-run inquiry into a government minister has exonerated the government”.

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