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SA Police chief slammed as parliament hears bombshell claims

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UPDATED | A police cadet applicant who was given preferential treatment – as part of a recruitment process later investigated by ICAC – was a “family member” of the state’s most senior police officer, Commissioner Grant Stevens, state parliament has been told.

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The bombshell claims were made under parliamentary privilege last night by Greens MLC Tammy Franks, who accused Stevens – the state’s COVID emergency coordinator – of a “conflict of interest” relating to the secret ICAC investigation into a senior officer who later took his own life.

SAPOL, on behalf of Stevens, declined to comment on the claims today, and said the Commissioner was still considering a report of a parliamentary committee tabled this week that accused him and other SAPOL witnesses of “noncompliance” with their inquiries and evasive responses.

However, in a later media conference Stevens insisted that ICAC commissioner Ann Vanstone had “made it abundantly clear that neither I or any relative of mine has done anything wrong”, adding he found it “curious [and] perhaps disappointing that a Member of Parliament is prepared to cause distress or harm to other people without any justification to do so”.

The parliamentary inquiry was focussed on reputational and other harm caused by ICAC inquiries, including the so-called ‘Recruit 313’ program, “a SAPOL recruitment project that aimed to recruit upward of 313 sworn police officers in 2016”.

The case centred around “a complaint to the OPI alleging corrupt processes undertaken by a number of senior police officers”, however, the DPP “did not recommend prosecuting charges of corruption”, the report stated.

“Further investigation was undertaken in 2018 regarding whether the same facts satisfied the criteria of misconduct and maladministration,” the report said.

Former police chief superintendent Doug Barr, “one of the 27 witnesses examined by the ICAC”, took his life in 2019 while awaiting draft findings of that “maladministration or misconduct” inquiry.

“Ultimately no formal findings of maladministration against Chief Superintendent Barr were made,” the committee report says.

But in a speech about the committee’s findings, Franks went further in a speech to the Legislative Council around 8.30pm last night, referring to an unnamed “SA Police employee who altered cadet applications to help the relative of a ‘very senior officer’”.

“The employee altered the spelling in the literacy and numeracy test of a family member of a ‘very senior’ member of SAPOL,” she told parliament.

“At no time in his evidence to our committee did Commissioner Grant Stevens ever say that he had a conflict of interest in the ‘Recruit 313’ process.

“He certainly lawyered up and he certainly took legal advice, and he certainly did not avail himself of the ability to move ‘in camera’ to let the committee know that maybe he had a conflict of interest here.”

Franks said it was “quite clear to me, as a member of this committee, that the commissioner had a distinct conflict of interest” because, she claimed, “the ‘Recruit 313’ investigation involved his family member”.

The MLC claimed that Stevens’ family member had “misspelt some of the words” in the application test but that another police officer had “looked out” for the family member “by attempting to correct the spelling”.

“That process of ‘Recruit 313’ required an ATAR of 70, and that is why the literacy and numeracy test was so vital,” she said.

“Not only were these children of the top brass given special treatment but they were given a special day on which to do the test.

“Current commissioner Grant Stevens had a family member who had their spelling corrected—albeit, I think unsuccessfully because I think the officer who attempted to correct the spelling still did not get the words right, but that is simply hearsay—yet never once did he disclose that conflict of interest to our committee.”

She said the process was conducted through TAFE SA and had “a fee attached to the testing that was waived for members’ children and for boyfriends of children of senior brass of SAPOL”.

“Never once, to our committee, did he say why he needed not just senior counsel of SAPOL but Frances Nelson QC to give him legal advice to present to our committee,” Franks said.

“Not once did he indicate that he had known of this for years – and it would be unsurprising, given it involved one of his family members.”

Franks criticised Stevens for failing to “provide that information to our committee”, saying: “He did not honestly present to our committee.”

She then highlighted a committee recommendation “about those witnesses who did not comply with the work of this committee and the standards we expect of our statutory officers in this state”.

That recommendation is that a report be made to the Legislative Council “to consider [the committee’s] view that the actions, or inaction, of any witnesses were unsatisfactory in terms of the Committee discharging the functions assigned by the Legislative Council”.

The inquiry’s report also took issue with Stevens’ written response as to when he was aware of the investigation into Barr, telling the committee that “SAPOL received a written report from the ICAC in December 2020 in relation to the ‘Recruit 313’ program, including information relative to Chief Superintendent Barr”.

But the inquiry said that former ICAC Commissioner Bruce Lander provided contradictory evidence, tabling a letter dated 15 August 2018 which advised Stevens “that the corruption investigation in regard to Chief Superintendent Barr was concluded but that he was opening a wider maladministration and misconduct investigation in regard to the Recruit 313 program”.

Franks said she believes the Recruit 313 case “sums up every reason why the work of this committee was so important, why this parliament should be calling to account the Police Commissioner of this state and asking him why he did not provide honest and truthful evidence and declare his conflict of interest to our committee as we undertook this inquiry”.

A police spokesman said SAPOL was “in the process of considering the [committee’s] report and have no comment to make at this time”.

They repeated the same statement in response to specific questions addressed to the Commissioner about Franks’ allegations, including whether a family member was assisted in a police recruitment process via fee waiver and/or attempted corrections of errors and whether the Commissioner had a conflict of interest in relation to his responses to the parliamentary inquiry.

However, at a later media conference, Stevens said that in regard to “comments that were made under parliamentary privilege yesterday, the ICAC commissioner has made it abundantly clear that neither I or any relative of mine has done anything wrong and I find it curious – perhaps disappointing – that a Member of Parliament is prepared to cause distress or harm to other people without any justification to do so”.

“I cannot comment on the circumstances regarding that matter, because it is the subject of an active conduct inquiry with the SA Police, stemming from an ICAC inquiry,” he went on.

“So I’m not able to talk about that.”

In a statement to InDaily, TAFE SA Chief Executive David Coltman said: “TAFE SA offers a pre-recruitment preparation assessment for South Australians interested in a career with the South Australian Police.”

“This pre-recruitment preparation assessment includes literacy and numeracy testing and helps those interested in a career with the South Australian Police to understand any gaps they may need to address prior to applying,” he said.

“TAFE SA understands that as part of recruitment processes, all prospective police cadets are required to complete a literacy and numeracy assessment.

“This can be completed with the South Australian Police or TAFE SA.”

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