South Australia’s ombudsman has cleared the former deputy first minister of any wrongdoing in her decision as planning minister to deny a port on Kangaroo Island.
- Vickie Chapman owns land on Kangaroo Island, where she refused permission for a port
- She stood on the sidelines as attorney general during a mediator’s investigation into her decision
- The ombudsman cleared her of any wrongdoing
Ombudsman Wayne Lines cleared Vickie Chapman of any conflict of interest, maladministration or violation of the Ministerial Code of Conduct in his findings tabled in Parliament this afternoon.
The ombudsman’s investigation also cleared former prime minister Steven Marshall of maladministration.
The inquiry was ordered by a parliamentary committee, which last November issued its own conclusion that Ms Chapman had a conflict in decision-making as planning minister.
He heard Mrs. Chapman owned land opposite a forest, which would have been felled if the port had continued.
She then resigned as deputy premier and stepped down as attorney general while the ombudsman began her investigation into her decision to deny approval for the port of Smith Bay because she oversaw the port. ombudsman under his portfolio.
She was suspended from state parliament for six days for deliberately misleading the chamber.
She has always vehemently denied ever having had a conflict of interest.
She declined to comment today, but her son Alex Hart took to Twitter after the ombudsman’s report was released.
The report says nothing to win or lose
Mr Lines’ report revealed that Smith Bay’s port proposal ‘would have no impact on it [Ms Chapman’s] personal lifestyle as she does not live on Kangaroo Island”.
“Although Smith Bay’s request describes an increase in heavy vehicle traffic on various roads, this has not affected her as she does not live on Kangaroo Island,” he said.
“Smith Bay’s application would also not impact the value of its Gum Valley property, increasing or decreasing its value.
He said that although the property was rented out from time to time, it was not a tourist business.
The ombudsman, who visited Gum Valley during the investigation, found that the buildings on the property were so far from the plantation that anyone staying there would not be affected by the crops.
“Therefore, I am of the view that Ms. Chapman had good reason to believe that she had no actual or potential conflict between her interest in the ownership of Gum Valley and her public duty to impartially review the Smith Bay’s claim on its merits,” Lines wrote.
The ombudsman dismissed any concerns about Ms Chapman’s attendance at a 2017 meeting where Ms Chapman voiced her opposition to the port, or her friendship with the mayor of Kangaroo Island and former Liberal MP Michael Pengilly.
The ombudsman also took aim at the Labor-led parliamentary committee which launched his inquiry, expressing ‘dismay’ at being ordered to investigate Ms Chapman after the committee had already delivered its own findings on a conflict.
“In my view, it is inappropriate for a parliamentary committee to refer to an ombudsman a matter which it has investigated and reached final conclusions and which has subsequently been dealt with by a house of parliament,” he wrote.
Mr Lines said the decision to refer the case to him “creates a real risk of politicizing my office and undermining public confidence in the independence and impartiality of my office”.
Didn’t Vickie Chapman quit?
Ms Chapman announced last month that she would be resigning from politics – the same day factional rival David Speirs was elected as the new Leader of the Opposition.
She was sworn in as MP for Bragg today, despite Speaker Dan Cregan tabling a legal opinion that she should not be able to sit in parliament as she had already written to him saying she resigned.
The ABC obtained a copy of Ms Chapman’s letter, dated April 26, 2022.
“As newly elected President, I notify you of my resignation from Parliament effective Tuesday 31 midnight May 2022,” she wrote.
Addressing Parliament this afternoon, Mr Cregan said the letter raised a ‘constitutional issue’ and that he ‘immediately sought Crown law advice’.
“This advice … provides in part: the words of article 30 [of the Constitution Act SA] leaves little room for doubt,” he said.
“The seat becomes vacant as soon as the President receives the letter of resignation.
Ms Chapman’s resignation will trigger a by-election in her safe seat in the eastern suburb of Bragg.
Mr Cregan said he could not issue a writ for the by-election while the issue of Ms Chapman’s resignation was in dispute, and said Mr Crump had informed him that it would be up to Parliament “to hear and decide the question”.
“The House need not deal with the matter immediately, but Ms. Chapman should not sit as a member or vote on any question until the House has determined the matter,” Mr. Cregan said.