But Marshall insists he has “absolutely not” asked for Vickie Chapman’s resignation – and maintains he will not seek her removal.
State Ombudsman Wayne Lines today confirmed he would investigate matters raised against Chapman in a parliamentary inquiry probing her decision to veto a major port project on her native Kangaroo Island.
Lines told InDaily: “I have received a referral from the Committee in line with Finding 11 of its report.”
That finding asked the Ombudsman to investigate “any matter relevant to whether or not the Attorney-General had a conflict of interest in determining the [port] application [and] any breach of the Ministerial Code of Conduct”.
It also, however, asks him to investigate “the role that any other public officer undertook relevant to the Attorney-General’s decision, including the role and responsibility of the Premier, Chief Executives and other public officers, including Crown Law Officers”.
Lines said today that under the Ombudsman Act “I am required to investigate and report back”.
Several Liberal insiders believe Chapman is bleeding support within the party-room, with the matter to be brought to a head at – if not before – the next joint party-room meeting before parliament resumes on November 30.
But Marshall strongly denied widespread speculation he had already expressed such a view to his deputy, who maintained her public silence today after yesterday losing a historic vote of no confidence that was backed by Labor and four crossbenchers – including two of her former Liberal colleagues.
Both of those men, Troy Bell and Sam Duluk, have publicly declared that Chapman should now resign according to Westminster convention relating to retaining the confidence of the lower house, where the government of the day should be expected to command a working majority.
“The Ombudsman is doing an inquiry – we’ll let the Ombudsman make a decision,” Marshall said today, declaring the parliamentary committee tainted by politics.
“I do not think this was clear-cut and the Ombudsman is now looking at it,” he said.
But Marshall declined to guarantee Chapman’s position should Lines reach the same conclusions as the parliamentary committee.
“It’s a very hypothetical question – let’s just see what comes from the investigation and what recommendations are made… but I just don’t think that will be the case,” he said.
Asked whether he expected Lines to probe his own role in the scandal, the Premier said: “The Ombudsman can investigate whatever the Ombudsman wishes to investigate.”
“We certainly wouldn’t be directing that, but he’s been asked by the committee to take a look at this issue and he will make a decision on the scope of that investigation.”
It comes as Chapman today broke her silence, telling media outside a city eatery where she had dined with with staff – at a lunch complete with Champagne on the table – that she was “very pleased to be back at work and of course progressing the agenda as Attorney-General and Deputy Premier”.
“So thank you very much!” she added.
She said she was “very pleased to catch up with my staff to celebrate a birthday and acknowledge the hard work that’s been done this week”.
She told an ABC news crew she had “every confidence” she would keep her job, saying: “The Premier’s position is very clear – I’ll continue to do my role as Attorney-General and Deputy Premier”.
On the Ombudsman’s inquiry, she said: “These are all matters that should have been dealt with months ago, but they hadn’t been because of this fiasco we’ve had in the parliament with the committee.”
Asked whether the matter should be brought to an end, she replied: “It’s come to an end.”
The Premier today denied that his repeated assertions that Chapman retained his “100 per cent” support suggested the vote could be seen as a lack of confidence in his own role – or that of his Government.
“No, I don’t think so,” he said.
“I just make the point we continued to pass legislation yesterday… we are just getting on with keeping South Australians safe and growing our economy.”
At a media conference ostensibly called to discuss arrangements for SA’s looming easing of border restrictions, Marshall said his “focus here today is on health”, telling reporters: “Your focus is on political shenanigans.”
“The Labor Party and some members of the crossbench want to play political games [but] I don’t think the public care about that one iota,” he said.
The No Confidence vote followed the tabling of the committee report, which found Chapman, as Planning Minister, had repeatedly misled parliament and breached the ministerial code of conduct.
The report found Chapman had real and perceived conflicts of interest when she vetoed the $40 million timber port.
Cregan said of his audience with fledgling Governor Frances Adamson: “I attended Government House this morning at the direction of the House.”
“I provided a copy of the motion of no confidence to the Governor [but] I did not express any advice.”
Government House offered no comment when contacted, and indicated none would be forthcoming.
Marshall said it was “unfortunate” that the Governor had now become embroiled in the matter.
“But the reality is the Governor takes advice from executive council and from me as Premier – and I’ll not be issuing any advice to remove Vickie Chapman,” he insisted.
Marshall’s Government was last year rocked by a spate of ministerial resignations amid an ICAC inquiry on parliamentary entitlements – which has ultimately thus far only seen charges laid against one MP, exiled backbencher Fraser Ellis, who abstained on the confidence motion yesterday.
But Marshall insisted his benchmark for ministerial accountability had not changed since then.
“There’s a completely different set of circumstances,” he insisted.
“People make decisions for a whole range of reasons – some of them family related, some of them personal related and some of them because they need to because of actions… in this instance none of those things are present – none of them whatsoever.”
Bell told InDaily last night he hoped a constitutional crisis could be avoided.
“It’s going to put a very new Governor under a lot of pressure… there are mechanisms for that – but there’s also conventions,” he said, referring to the Westminster convention that a minister who loses the confidence of the lower house should resign.
However, he said, “it’s not for me to decide who does what from here – the House has made a decision”.
Asked if Chapman should resign, he said: “That’s a matter for the Deputy Premier – and it’s also a matter for the Premier… but the House has voted No Confidence [and] the convention is that she’d step down, so following that convention – yes.”
Cregan said of the Governor’s involvement: “If it were the case that the Deputy Premier resigned, it follows that it would not be necessary.”
Moderate faction colleagues, however, last night defended the Deputy Premier, with Vincent Tarzia declaring: “I think Vickie Chapman is doing a sterling job and I’m looking forward to her continuing her good work in the role.”
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