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'Evidence not compelling at all': Marshall insists Chapman's fate is 'my decision'

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Premier Steven Marshall says it will be “ultimately my decision” to determine if his deputy Vickie Chapman has breached the ministerial code of conduct – but insists he has heard no evidence “whatsoever” that she had a conflict of interest when she vetoed a $40 million Kangaroo Island timber port.

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A parliamentary inquiry examining whether the Attorney-General and Planning Minister had a real or perceived conflict – linked to her family ties and property holdings on the island – will today hear concluding statements from its counsel assisting, Dr Rachael Gray QC, before its five members table their own conclusions.

The committee is comprised of two Labor MPs, two Liberals and one ex-Liberal independent, Sam Duluk.

It follows two weeks of hearings, in which former executives of the company behind the port proposal, which had major project status, argued Chapman had multiple perceived conflicts.

These, they argued, were her landholdings, their proximity to associated timber plantations, her close relationship with KI mayor Michael Pengilly – a vehement opponent of the port’s Smith bay location – and the claim the minister “belonged to a small cohort of farmers on the island who have conflated their long-held resentment of plantation forestry with the matter of the Smith Bay port”.

The inquiry is also tasked to assess whether the minister misled parliament about the impact on her properties, or breached the ministerial code.

Marshall today said it was “obviously something we [would] take very, very seriously if there has been a breach” of the code – but insisted that was a matter for him as Premier to determine.

“Let’s take a look if that ever occurs [but] that’s ultimately my decision,” he told reporters this morning.

Asked whether that would be predicated on Gray’s findings, Marshall said: “No, I form my own opinion.”

“If you’re referring to the very expensive kangaroo court which has occurred in parliament house in recent days, I don’t think there’s a single piece of evidence that would move my decision to 100 per cent support the deputy premier,” he said.

“The requirement under the ministerial code of conduct is [that] I form that opinion, and I’ve looked at all the evidence that was presented last week… so we’ll wait to see what the parliament throws up, but certainly to me there’s been no conflict of interest whatsoever.”

He went further, insisting Chapman “made the right decision” not to allow the project to proceed, despite advice from her department and the independent Planning Commission that it could go ahead “on balance [and] subject to additional requirements (including reserved matters for further assessment) and conditions”.

“I back [her decision] 100 per cent… I would have made the same decision if it was my requirement to make the decision,” Marshall said.

Asked on what basis he believed there was no perceived conflict, he said: “I’m just saying, I don’t perceive that there’s a conflict of interest whatsoever.”

Whatever the outcome, Labor is likely to pursue a no confidence motion against the embattled Attorney on the floor of parliament – where the crossbench numbers are finely balanced.

However, Marshall pointed to the “precedent” of successful no confidence motions against Labor minister Ian Hunter in the Upper House under the previous government, arguing “he didn’t resign or [get] sacked”.

Labor also took no action after successful no confidence motions against former minister Russell Wortley in the Upper House.

Marshall suggested there was no “difference between the two” houses of parliament regarding motions of no confidence.

The last minister to lose a vote relating to misleading parliament in the Lower House was then-deputy premier Graham Ingerson, who did resign in 1998.

But Marshall insisted: “I’ve looked at the evidence presented to the parliamentary committee [and] it wasn’t compelling at all.”

“I’ve made it crystal clear since day one that I have 100 per cent confidence in the decision-making capability of Vickie Chapman,” he said.

“Nothing there moved me to lose confidence in Vickie Chapman as the Attorney-General and the Planning Minister of SA.”

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