Parliamentary inquiry hears that the public prosecutor owns land ‘across the road’ from proposals for KI port

The former CEO of the company behind a proposed port on Kangaroo Island has told a parliamentary inquiry that he was not aware that Advocate General Vickie Chapman owned land across the road from a forest that was to be cultivated.

The committee is examining whether Mrs Chapman had a conflict of interest when she made the decision to reject a port from which the timber would have been shipped from the island.

Mrs Chapman – who owns land on Kangaroo Island – has previously rejected proposals that she had a conflict of interest.

Today, Keith Lamb – the former CEO of Kangaroo Island Plantations Timber (KIPT) – was presented with a map showing Mrs Chapman’s property is across the road from part of the forest that would have been affected by the port’s approval.

“I did not know until you showed me this card right now,” Mr Lamb told the committee.

Sir. Lamb told the committee that in recent weeks he had heard media reports that Mrs Chapman’s property was “within meters of one of the forests”, but at the time, KIPT did not believe there was a conflict of interest.

A man wearing a suit is sitting at a desk
A former Kangaroo Island Plantation Timbers (KIPT) CEO, Keith Lamb, told the study he did not believe there was a conflict of interest.(ABC News: Ben Pettitt)

“When we consider the question of whether there was a conflict, it comes back to whether that test was applied to a minister who had [an] interest in Adelaide, no minister could make a decision in the urban area, “Mr Lamb said.

“We did not formally request that she be rejected, [nor] the decision shall be taken by another Minister. ”

AG intervened in the process while in opposition, the committee hears

Another former KIPT CEO, John Sergeant, told the query that Ms. Chapman was a surprise participant at a 2017 meeting with then-MP, and now KI mayor, Michael Pengilly.

“It had barely begun before Vickie Chapman appeared, she was at the time, I think, deputy leader of the opposition,” Sergeant said.

“It was a surprise to us.”

The sergeant told the inquiry that Mrs. Chapman then “ran the meeting.”

“She explained that she thought we had chosen the wrong place and that a place further west in a place called Cape Dutton would be more appropriate,” he said.

“[Ms Chapman] found it hard to believe that we could have chosen a site like Smith Bay and she said she would like to see a complete consideration of all possible sites.

“I’m not sure it’s even legal to assess a development by requiring the developer to consider other sites, no one who submits a development application in most jurisdictions will be asked to consider alternative sites, especially sites they neither owns nor controls.

“Still, the company, despite having received advice [that] it may not even be legal, continue to comply with this request. “

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Former KIPT CEO John Sergeant says the Attorney General should have stepped aside.(ABC News: Ben Pettitt)

The sergeant told the committee that it was his conviction that Mrs Chapman should have stepped aside.

“I do not know if she was under any legal obligation to do so… I do not know if she acted wrongfully and I certainly do not blame her for it, but if it is correct that someone addresses this without a set beliefs about the merits of the development, then I do not think Mrs Chapman was a suitable person to act as the sole judge of the decision, ”he said.

The sergeant said he was not only surprised “at the fact that Mrs Chapman did not excuse herself from making the decision, but also at the fact that she took it on her own”.

“It struck me as particularly strange that a decision like this would not be made by the Cabinet … I think it would be normal for a minister to bring a decision like this to the Cabinet and seek opinions from his colleagues,” said Mr. Sergeant.

“When an action gives a minister that kind of power, the highest standards should apply, and I do not think they applied in this case.”

Although Mr Sergeant had these views, he confirmed that he did not ask Chapman not to comment on the port.

When asked by Liberal MP Matt Cowdrey if he had submitted an application for the Justice Minister to resign, Mr Sergeant replied, “me, personally, no”.

The committee is a ‘fact-finding mission’, not to impose a penalty

Senior adviser who assisted the committee, Rachael Gray QC, opened the hearing by outlining the terms of reference and stressed that it was a commission of inquiry into the conduct of the public prosecutor, especially in relation to opinions in parliament.

“A select committee does not have the power to make any conclusion as to whether there has been a breach, or to impose any penalty for a breach,” said Drs. Gray.

“If a breach is alleged, it must be referred back to the appropriate house.”

She said the study was not aimed at examining the benefits of the proposed port.

“The question of whether it is a good or bad thing to have a deep-sea port in Smith Bay is not something that is the focus of the terms of reference,” said Dr. Gray.

“The terms of reference also do not focus on the impact of the Minister of Planning and the Advocate General’s decision on Kangaroo Island Plantation Timber.

“Any concern [the company] the validity of the Public Prosecutor’s decision would be a question that could potentially be tried elsewhere. “

A woman is sitting at a table inside a courtroom
Senior Adviser Rachael Gray QC says a select committee does not have the power to draw a conclusion as to whether there has been a breach of ministerial standards. (ABC News: Stacey Lee)

Dr. Gray said the lawyer’s role in an investigation was very different from a court case.

“There are no charges against any person… there is no burden of proof for lawyers helping or a requirement to prove anything or anything,” she said.

“No remedy has been awarded [nor] any final orders placed at the end of the process.

“One of the roles of the lawyer is to assist in ensuring that the investigation is conducted in accordance with the requirements of procedural fairness.”

The inquiry was told that if a minister does not reveal a conflict of interest that later turns out to exist, the prime minister can take a number of measures.

“The premiere may, among other things … demand that the Minister publicly apologize … [to] stand aside or step back [or] refer the matter to an appropriate authority for investigation and demand that the Minister resign during the investigation, “said Dr. Gray.

Mrs Chapman is scheduled to testify tomorrow.

The committee will submit its report to Parliament on 18 November.


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