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"I intend to clear my name": Senior Lib rejects call to stand aside

Politics

Labor says it will ask police to investigate whether any South Australian MPs have breached parliamentary accommodation allowance protocols and has called on Upper House president Terry Stephens to stand aside pending any inquiry.

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But the long-serving Liberal MLC, who was elected as president of the Legislative Council in February, says he doesn’t intend to stand aside “at this point” – although he says he would if his Liberal colleagues requested it.

Stephens has today written to both the Auditor-General and State Taxation Commissioner asking for his affairs to be examined, insisting the inquiries will “clear my name”.

Stephens’ accommodation expenses have been questioned in two reports by the ABC, which last night alleged he had not paid land tax on his Norwood property, but claimed a Victor Harbor unit as his primary residence in his parliamentary register of interests.

Stephens is one of several state MPs who has claimed an allowance that entitles members who live further than 75 kilometres from the Adelaide GPO to payments of $234 for each night they spend in Adelaide on official business – capped at 135 nights per year.

He yesterday rebuffed questions about why his seaside apartment had been rented out before its sale last year, revealing he still resided in a leased apartment in the same complex.

In a statement to parliament this afternoon, he confirmed he had written to the Auditor-General, who has oversight of the country members’ accommodation allowance, seeking an urgent review of all Legislative Council allowances, with his own as a priority. He has also asked the Taxation Commissioner to reassess “any land tax obligations relating to my jointly-owned property at Norwood and previously-owned property at Victor Harbor”.

He told InDaily: “I intend to clear my name as quickly as possible.”

Yesterday, Stephens and Lower House Speaker Vincent Tarzia relented to release details of total amounts claimed by country-based state MPs over the past two years, but the Opposition today called for greater clarity, urging the full release of all claim forms and declarations dating back 10 years.

Labor said it had also referred the issue of accommodation allowance claims more broadly to the SAPOL anti-corruption branch.

“We’ll be requesting an investigation by the police about the potential misuse of that allowance by any member,” Shadow Attorney-General Kyam Maher told reporters.

“And we’ll also be requesting that the president of the Legislative Council stands aside pending the results of any investigation.

“It’s on the public record that the president of the Legislative Council is one of the members who’s claimed the country members’ accommodation allowance, and it’s also the case that it’s the president of the Legislative Council who decides on investigators’ access to certain documents – so we think it’s untenable, pending a full investigation, for the current president to remain in the position he’s in.”

But Stephens told InDaily: “I don’t intend to stand aside at this point.”

“If my Liberal colleagues tell me to stand aside, I would,” he said.

“I’ve got no intention of damaging the Marshall Government.”

Maher said the inquiry should “apply equally to all members of parliament” but insisted he was “not aware of any member of Labor who would have misused these allowances”.

The country members’ allowance applies overwhelmingly to Liberal MPs, with Labor only holding one seat completely outside the greater metropolitan area (Whyalla-based Giles, held by Eddie Hughes), and South-East-based Clare Scriven one of only three MLCs claiming the payment in the Upper House.

Premier Steven Marshall told reporters today that the parliament was “sovereign” but “both the Speaker and the President have committed to releasing all documentation… the first time this has happened in the history of the SA parliament”.

However, he declined to comment on the President’s case specifically, saying: “This is really an issue that Terry Stephens is going to have to work out.”

“The Government doesn’t preside over country member accommodation allowances – that’s something the parliament deals with,” Marshall said.

“I think it’s good we’re moving to greater transparency.”

He said he was aware that Stephens “has a property in Victor Harbor, and I know he also has a property that he stays at when he’s up in Adelaide”, which is in Marshall’s own Dunstan electorate.

“That’s been the situation for many, many members who have a principal place of residence in the country [and] who also either rent accommodation, lease accommodation or stay in a hotel when they come to the city,” he said.

“That arrangement has been in place for decades and decades – and I have no information that anyone’s doing anything incorrect.”

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