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Chapman doesn't support new changes to ICAC secrecy

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Attorney-General Vickie Chapman is lukewarm about calls to revisit the secrecy provisions of the state’s ICAC laws – despite almost falling foul of them herself in recent days.

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Chapman was forced to seek legal advice after anti-corruption commissioner Bruce Lander revealed he told her not to mention his integrity agency in a media statement last week.

Her subsequent statement explicitly mentioned ICAC in relation to an ongoing investigation, forcing Lander to release his own statement authorising media to publish it.

Fronting reporters today, Chapman repeated her insistence that “I’ve had very clear advice on this matter and I’m perfectly satisfied there is no breach of the ICAC Act”.

But she would not be drawn as to whether her statement would have constituted a breach of the law if the Commissioner had not given his subsequent assent.

Asked whether she would have breached the ICAC Act if Lander hadn’t authorised her statement retrospectively, Chapman told reporters: “I have very clear advice on this matter – I have not breached the ICAC Act.”

Lander told InDaily this week a change to the laws governing ICAC “needs to be considered” after questions about Renewal SA executives prompted a farcical chain of events last week, with Planning Minister Stephan Knoll unwilling to answer basic staffing questions and media unable to report on matters raised in parliament.

Chapman acknowledged today: “What is clear… is that there are a number of deficiencies with the legislation, and as soon as we came into office the Commissioner raised a number of areas of amendment that he would seek.”

However, she said the Marshall Government was giving “priority to public [maladministration] hearings and that’s what we’re advancing first”.

Optional open hearings for maladministration cases was a key election commitment by the Liberal Opposition, with the party introducing a bill to amend the Act accordingly.

“We have been fighting for years for aspects of this operation to have the right to public hearings and let the public understand what’s happening in relation to those investigations,” Chapman said today.

“But if [Lander] has concerns otherwise in relation to matters that may need further amendment, we’ll add them to the list.”

Section 56 of the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Act states that a person “must not, except as authorised by the Commissioner in this case, publish or cause to be published information tending to suggest that a particular person is, has been, may be or may have been the subject of a complaint, report, assessment, investigation or referral under this Act”.

Of the secrecy provision, Chapman said: “I think that’s been an issue of management since the Act came into being, so that’s an issue that clearly we can have a look at further.”

But, she added, “we have supported the concept of non-disclosure when matters are referred in the past – and that’s an aspect of the original bill that we supported”.

“But if there are other amendments and other areas of reform that the Commissioner would like to advance, the usual process of those would be that they’d go through the parliament’s public integrity committee, and there would be some scrutiny in relation to how that might affect the operation of the Act generally,” she said.

“Should there be other matters of reform which Mr Lander or others want to present as necessary reform, we’re happy to receive them.”

Chapman has long backed the secrecy provisions of the ICAC Act, and has in the past railed against statements such as that made by Planning Minister Stephan Knoll last week regarding Renewal SA executives taking leave.

She told ABC Radio in 2015, such announcements “place a cloud over a whole lot of people… it just means that a whole group of people have a cloud over them and that’s unacceptable”.

“Our concern is not that ICAC aren’t doing their job… but if they’re going to make a statement identifying some referral, then either be full and frank about who’s involved or don’t make the statement at all,” she said at the time.

Asked today whether Lander “saved her political skin” by authorising her public statement last week, Chapman said: “I can’t comment on that.”

“I think it’s very clear on the advice I’ve had that there’s no breach of the act, and I’m confident of that advice,” she repeated.

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