SA Attorney General Vickie Chapman rejects conflict of interest in Kangaroo Island port investigation

South Australia’s Attorney General has told a parliamentary committee that she received rental income from a property that would have been affected by a major port development, which she subsequently blocked.

The committee is investigating whether Vickie Chapman acted properly when she, as planning minister, in August rejected a proposal to build a timber export port at Smith Bay on Kangaroo Island.

Mrs. Chapman told the committee that she owns a house in Gum Valley that was rented out to a local family.

But she refused to know that an adjacent plantation was under contract with the Kangaroo Island Plantation Timbers, nor that concerns about increased truck traffic past the property played any role in her decision to reject the company’s development application.

“There’s nothing going on there that I’ve seen … I’ve not noticed any activity in there either [had any] contract. No one has told me that, “she said.

However, committee members pointed out that the assessment report in the development showed transportation routes that passed her family property and went to the neighboring block.

“I will indicate to you that it was not to my detriment,” said Mrs. Chapman.

An aerial photo of a house next to a forest
The house, owned by Vickie Chapman, downstairs, is located next to a tree plantation on Kangaroo Island.(ABC News)

Questions of conflict of interest

Lawyer assisting the committee, Rachael Gray QC, said Ms. Chapman had an obligation to identify and report both perceived and actual conflicts of interest before making decisions on the application.

“Do you accept that the fact that you were asked to make a decision on a proposal that had transportation rates within 1 to 2 kilometers of property you owned could create a perception of conflict of interest?” asked Dr. Gray.

“Well, I do not,” said Mrs. Chapman.

“If it did, someone would have written to me and said, ‘Look, this is the situation.'”

A woman with long brown hair and a black jacket is sitting at a desk with a microphone and paperwork.  Her hand rests on her face
Senior adviser assisting the committee Rachael Gray QC listens during the hearing.(ABC News: Haidarr Jones)

Dr. Gray, however, said the minister was responsible for identifying a potential conflict, not advocates for the project.

“The obligation to identify a conflict: Do you accept that it is your obligation, not the proposed builder’s?” she said.

Mrs Chapman replied: “I have stated that I do not agree that I had a conflict or a perceived conflict. I have just pointed out that if there was anyone else who thought I did, I thought that I would have heard from them. “

The Advocate General also told the committee that proximity to transport routes and potential for increased truck traffic would not have influenced her decision.

“I have no problem with trucks. I understand their importance, in [that] they are capable of promoting and maintaining any industry. “

Ms Chapman said she did not seek the Crown Attorney’s advice on whether she had a conflict of interest, even though department staff had asked her more than once to “turn around” to that question.

“I do not recall receiving specific Crown Solicitors advice on these matters,” she told the committee.

An excavator cuts into a forest
Tree is being harvested on Kangaroo Island in a plantation that burned in the 2020 bush fires.(Delivered: KIPT)

Dr. Gray referred to a report prepared for Ms Chapman by the Executive Director of the Attorney-General’s Department in September 2020.

“It reads: ‘I have been informed that you may be considering delegating the decision and that your colleague, the Honorable Michelle Lensink, Minister for Human Services, may be appointed Acting Minister for Planning and Local Government,'” he said. Gray. committee.

Asked how it came about that Mrs Lensink would be appointed acting minister, Mrs Chapman replied: “I assume because they had been informed that I was considering whether there was any conflict of interest. I may not have taken that decision at that point, and presumably the department makes the inquiry as to who is available.

At various times during her presentation of evidence, Mrs Chapman denied that she had an actual or perceived conflict.

“I do not think I have any conflict of interest,” she said.

“Neither I nor my family have it [had] any benefit or advantage, or avoided any harm by my decision. “

A rocky beach
The shore at Smith Bay, where the harbor was proposed.(Delivered: PlanSA)

The opposition demands that the public prosecutor leave

Labor government spokesman Tom Koutsantonis said Mrs Chapman should step down after today’s hearing.

“After today’s unsatisfactory response, Vickie Chapman has no choice but to resign from her commission immediately,” Mr Koutsantonis said.

“Vickie Chapman wants South Australians to believe she did not know the forest across the road from her family home was to be harvested by the KI Plantation Timbers.

“This property was clearly mentioned in the appraisal report, which the public prosecutor told parliament she had ‘read well’ of and thoroughly investigated.

“Either she did not read the report and she is negligent and did not approve a project because she did not read the report – or she read the report and knew it.”

Chapman condemns ‘expensive charade’

When she had finished testifying, Mrs. Chapman took a trip to the committee and the behavior of some of its members.

“The approach that has been taken in this investigation, to have some kind of pre-election question of the day, media statement, is just a quarrel, and it’s just nonsense, and it’s a very, very expensive one, ” she said .

She accused the opposition of trying to politicize her brother’s suicide in 2017.

“I was bitterly disappointed that you would argue that by coming in to inherit money from my deceased brother’s estate, that this was in some way an attempt to conceal the simultaneous transfer, of my consideration of this matter. with the inheritance of the property, when it would be well known to you, under what circumstances I [acquired] that property, “said Mrs Chapman.

“Not a day goes by that all my sisters do not want our brother back instead of having the extra plots of land.”

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