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Your views: on perceived conflict of interest

Reader contributions

Today, readers comment on Tom Richardson’s analysis of the Ombudsman’s report into Vickie Chapman.

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Commenting on the opinion piece: Richardson: I was adamant Chapman had a conflict. The Ombudsman says she didn’t

It now seems “perception” of conflict of interest is diminished in respect to transparency in government decision-making. However, that did not stop SA voters’ perception that the former Government was incapable of making decisions worthy of their support. Note to Ombudsman – perceptions do count.

The former A-G should have recognised the ‘perceived’ conflict of interest and acted transparently in accordance with that recognition. It is the lack of transparency and the recognition of the potential impact that is at the crux of this situation. The Ombudsman’s interpretation requiring the observer to investigate and have a deep understanding in order to develop a so-called ‘perception’ will deter inquiry and cloud transparency.

Now let’s move forward and see if the decisions made by the current government attract the ‘new’  interpretation/definition offered by the Ombudsman. – Rod Sutherland

I can’t agree with the Ombudsman’s finding that there was no perceived conflict of interest. His justification clearly relies on a legal interpretation of a number of documents, and with the content of some of those in conflict with each other.

Looking at the situation I haven’t changed my view that there was a perceived conflict of interest. Vickie Chapman is clearly an intelligent and articulate women and it amazes me she went ahead and made such a sensitive decision on her own without recognising the way it would be viewed by others.

Applying commonsense and likely risk to her reputation should really have persuaded her to recuse herself. To not do so raises a perception of arrogance. – Paul Venables

The Ombudsman had his hands tied given the lack of clarity in legislation, and he consequently found that there was no case to answer.

In this era of ‘distorted truths’ such actions and inactions lead to a deterioration in the standards that we need to maintain if we are to protect our democracy. – Graham Webster

So Mr Richardson, are you not advocating metaphorically, hanging, drawing and quartering people simply based on perception? Is that not mob rule? Is that not a lynching? – Gordon Toll

Thanks Tom for that considered and sensible analysis. I agree that a perception of conflict should be what the public observing the process might think. It does not need to be an actual or material conflict. Merely the possibility that there may be one should provoke openness in decision making.

My concern with the timber port decision process is this: the department is required to have an objective, fair, defensible, evidence-based decision-making process. They recommended that approval be granted.

The Minister does have authority to override that advice – for example by taking account of larger issues beyond the department. Of concern here is that the Minister overrode departmental advice without stating or recording any additional reasoning. This constitutes an unreasonable, indefensible decision.

Ministers are servants of the public (literally by definition). This is all about public administration not only being honest and fair, but also about being seen to be honest.

Coincidentally at the end of this process, timber plantation owners were denied the ability to sell their product to a building industry which is desperate for supply, causing further increase in home building costs. Which is a matter of both public concern and political sensitivity. – David Leske.

What a stain on the whole process, it undermines public confidence in the Ombudsman’s process. Blind Freddie can see it was, at the very least, a perceived conflict of interest. – Janine Hurrell

This was a telling statement: “It wasn’t, then, the inquiry that curtailed Chapman’s ministerial career, but the Marshall Government’s inability to govern in a manner that would secure its re-election.”

Those of us who believe that there clearly was a perceived conflict of interest have some small satisfaction in that the attitude and behaviour of the Liberal government evident in this case has resulted in their loss of power.

If you can’t deal with a component of a government, one must deal with the whole. – Peter Whitehouse

The Ombudsman’s outcome beggars belief.

I acted as probity officer on a number of defence contracts. Where I found contention, it was then referred to legals for validation. I have had relatives of evaluation and tender teams removed on the basis of potential apprehended bias, let alone perceptions.

Any other decision would have invited invested third parties as well as outsiders to challenge an outcome. Other interested parties would have had a clear opportunity to challenge a process and seek either dismissal of a contract or seek recovery and/or compensation.

In times gone by, we used to see federal ministers stand aside for less. I would have thought that the Ombudsman’s decision is not something that would stand the test of the courts. Precedent is set by the courts of law, not by an Ombudsman’s report.

This Ombudsman’s report is absurd: it should be the purview of the courts and the courts alone. – Gary Fairlie

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