The Deputy Prime Minister today faces a parliamentary inquiry into whether she had a real or perceived conflict in her decision to veto the plan of the Kangaroo Island Plantation Timbers, and whether she misled Parliament or broke the Ministerial Act following the decision.
The investigation heard yesterday that land owned by Chapman lies next to a privately owned forest under contract with KIPT and a road that would have been used as a major transport route under the port proposal.
In his opening statement today, Chapman said that “as the first lawyer, I am and have always been aware of my legal obligations” in terms of “legally and impartially delivering results”.
Chapman said that although successive appraisal reports recommended that there could be preliminary approval of the project, there remained “reserve areas that required further appraisal” and which were never resolved.
She said she and her siblings had received the land near the transport routes as part of the estate after her father Ted, who died in 2006.
Chapman said she had always declared her land holdings, noting that the identified property passed to her after her brother’s death by suicide in 2017, saying she was “absolutely disgusted” that this issue should be politicized.
“Not a day goes by that my sisters and I would not have our brother left instead of the extra plots of land,” she said.
During questioning by the study’s assistant counselor, Dr. Rachael Gray QC, Chapman was asked if she accepted that maps show that property owned by her – which she said was rented as an AirBNB – was within “one to two kilometers” of a proposed transportation route.
“When you were considering the Smith Bay harbor proposal, did you understand that if it was approved, it would mean trucks across the road from your property and removing wood?” asked Gray.
“I accepted that it would happen whether the port was approved or not,” Chapman replied, saying trucking was common on Kangaroo Island.
“If it was treated at all, it had to be in trucks – so there was nothing of significance [about it],” she said.
“No matter what they do with the timber – whether they tile it, put it in poles or whatever – they have to use a truck … the question of whether they had a port in this very place was almost academic, whether they would have timber transport. “
In response to a suggestion that transportation would have been a “larger, more comprehensive operation” if the port had been approved, Chapman said “a huge amount of timber [had] already been cut down and put in a truck ”.
Gray asked if she would admit that the property’s proximity to the transport route “could create a perception of a conflict of interest”, to which Chapman said: “Well, I do not – but if it did, I would have expected someone to have written to me and said it. “
She said, “no one raised it with me”, until SA Best MLC Frank Pangallo suggested she had a conflict in parliament earlier this year.
However, Chapman also told the inquiry that her department had twice asked her to consider the possibility that she had an actual or perceived conflict – first when she took over the planning portfolio in mid-2020, and later when an assessment report on the port project was received.
She said she was “informed of what my obligations were at the time of the transfer” from predecessor Stephan Knoll, saying: “I was asked to draw attention to it at the time, and I did.”
Asked if she sought Crown Solicitors’ advice on whether she could have a conflict, Chapman said, “I do not remember specifically as to whether it happened at the time.”
“I had a general advice at the time of the transfer of the portfolio to me.”
However, she confirmed that a fellow minister, Michelle Lensink, had been appointed as a potential acting minister in the event that she withdrew from the decision.
“I assume [that was] because they had been informed that I was considering whether there was any conflict of interest, ”she told the committee.
However, she insisted that she was satisfied that such a conflict did not exist, and continued her oversight of the decision.
Chapman said she had withdrawn from two unrelated projects due to a perceived conflict – both related to her eastern suburbs constituency Bragg.
But she maintained that there was no reason to do the same for the port proposal.
‘I was asked to turn to it [question] and I did, “she said.
“No one in my department has ever claimed that I had a conflict of interest or perceived conflict – they asked me to turn to that question.
“At no point did anyone in my department say to me, ‘you have land on KI, so you have to be in conflict.'”
Chapman insisted that “if there was an allegation or perception that this was a problem”, she would have expected KIPT to raise it at the time, noting that former director Shauna Black publicly supported her, after Pangallo raised the conflict claim.
Black is scheduled to testify for the investigation in the coming days.
However, Gray told the lawyer that it was her duty to identify a potential conflict, “not the developer’s”.
“Yes, and I have indicated that I do not agree that I had a conflict or perceived conflict,” Chapman replied.
Asked whether she had realized that “the transportation routes were so close to property owned by you,” Chapman said, “Not specifically, no.”
“I did not even see it as a problem,” she continued.
“I think this idea that a transportation route from a producing property somehow worries me as a landowner because it’s in a nearby area is bizarre.
“There’s been timber there since my dad owned the property 40 years ago … there are trucks coming in and out of these properties, whatever they produce, on a regular basis.”
Labor MP Tom Koutsantonis interjected that they would do so in smaller quantities because of a decision she had made, to which Chapman replied: “All I can say to the Member is that the issue of transport is not an issue. that worries me. ”
“In the 16 years of my early life [on KI] “It was clear that everything came in and out of a truck – it’s a normal part of life,” she said.
“I suppose what seems to me rather bizarre in this process is [the idea] that haulage routes are of some importance … I do not live on the island [but] forestry has been there for 30 or 40 years – it has been felled, pulled, made into posts …
“Besides timber, which I do not know much about, there are many other industries at KI [and] people who live there understand that everything comes and goes in a truck unless it can fit in a suitcase.
“This is the real world out there – it’s necessary no matter where you live … I have no problem with trucks, I have no problem with trucks.
“I live in Tusmore, I have 3,000 trucks a day driving past my house – trucks are trucks.”
Asked if she could admit that the situation “creates at least a sense of conflict of interest when in reality you are running a tourism project” next to the transport route, Chapman said: “No, I do not accept that.”
“It’s a bit like saying that transports that go out on the ferry can not exist side by side [with tourists]she said before describing the juxtaposition of travelers and pets on the KI ferry, noting “if you’m lucky, you’ll get to the other side of the canal without getting sheep’s urine all over your windshield,” but she argued, that the island remained SA’s leading tourist destination.
Asked whether it would have been better to declare a perceived conflict “for the benefit of hindsight,” Chapman said, “Of course not.”
But Koutsantonis told Chapman in committee: “In my years in parliament, I have never seen a clearer example of a conflict of interest.”
“It’s clear to anyone who looks at this that you should have said no,” he said.
Local news is important
Media diversity is threatened in Australia – nowhere more so than in southern Australia. The state needs more than one vote to guide it forward, and you can help with a donation of any size to InDaily. Your contribution goes directly to helping our journalists uncover facts. Please click below to help InDaily continue to uncover the facts.