Chapman ‘hard done’ in finding conflicts, says Ombudsman

Supporters of a logging port on Kangaroo Island could have expressed concern over possible fears of bias by then Attorney General Vickie Chapman, says the Ombudsman who acquitted her – but says she was “hard ready” on the matter of the conflict matters.

Ombudsman Wayne Lines yesterday delivered his long-awaited report clearing Chapman of any actual, alleged or potential conflicts of interest – a finding that completely contradicts last year’s parliamentary inquiry and the succinct statements of his QC, Dr. Rachel Gray.

Chapman, who is out of parliament this month and still doesn’t know if she has resigned yet, lost a vote of no confidence in the House of Representatives last year after the committee’s report also found that she had misled parliament about her land holdings on her native Kangaroo Island.

lines told InDaily today he understood “how the commission approached it”, saying “they looked at more than a conflict of interest [such as] misleading statements in parliament.”

“But I think on the issue of conflicts of interest in the thick of the battle and the urgency of the matter there were assumptions that I think led to the wrong conclusion,” he said.

“It follows that I would say she is having a hard time in that area.”

While his report criticized the commission for referring to him on matters it had already ruled on — suggesting it could jeopardize the independence of his agency — Lines was more cautious today when asked why his conclusions were so different. than that of that study. †

“Part of that is that the committee was given a very short timeline to complete their investigation and prepare their report — they had six weeks to do it — while I had the luxury of six months to get to my come to a conclusion,” he said.

“I didn’t have to be subject to public opinion – I did my research in private.”

He said he “also had the chance to go to Kangaroo Island and see where things are, and how they’re geographically positioned… what roads look like, what the property looks like and all that.

“I think that has been an advantage for me.”

He said his report was “not intended to be a criticism of the select committee’s investigation” – which the Liberal opposition is insisting today, demanding the government reveal what the committee has cost.

“It’s a different process and my approach was different,” Lines said.

SA Ombudsman Wayne Lines. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

“I’ve been very focused on identifying the nature of Ms Chapman’s interests because that’s what you need to figure out to determine if there’s a conflict of interest – how would the outcome of the decision she had before her , affect its interests? You have to know what those interests are, and my conclusion was that because she doesn’t live there [on KI]basically you have to say what information there is about the application that would affect its ownership, either in marketability, rentability or its ability to buy stock on it.

He said the impact of the port, including the movement of trucks from forest plantations, “would have no impact on the value of the property”.

He agreed that conflicts of interest can include factors that are “wider than commercial”, including lifestyle and “the enjoyment of the property”, but “that sort of thing is less dependent”.

Asked whether that means non-residential properties adjacent to major developments cannot give rise to a conflict of interest, he said: “It does depend on the nature of the development and what impact it would have on that property.”

“Let’s say the activities around the property would disrupt access to it – that would be a relevant issue and could well create a conflict… create a conflict.”

Lines also dismissed a key concern raised in the investigation by former executives of the port’s proponent, Kangaroo Island Plantation Timbers, who alleged that Chapman had identified the port’s location as early as 2017, when she was in opposition. sat, had declined privately.

“I didn’t think that created a private interest — I think if there was anything that could worry them about bias,” he said.

“But you have to keep in mind that that discussion took place three to four years before the final decision – not at a time when she had any decision-making power…the detail of the development application had not been finalized, there was no environmental impact assessment at that time, the was just a broad proposition.”

Asked if the proponents could have been concerned when an MP who had expressed such concerns was later given sole responsibility for the project’s green light, Lines said: “Oh yes, but in terms of a concept of conflict of interest her involvement was not create a private interest that would conflict with the application.”

“It may have been a reason for the KIPT directors to be concerned if she was biased – but they didn’t bring it up with her,” he said.

“That’s a small difference between a conflict of interest that the minister had to declare and a fear of bias that they had to raise with her because the methods of raising it are different.”

Committee witnesses had suggested they didn’t raise those concerns because they feared the impact to the project if they did, but Lines says that scenario was “a bit of an exaggeration.”

“The advocates knew there were alternatives to the Secretary…if they were genuinely concerned that Ms Chapman would determine it, they could have easily discussed it with her, and she would have known it would be in the best interest of the administration to move aside.” to go,” said Lijnen.

“That concern about becoming a victim is exaggerated.”

Despite the non-liberal members of the study finding both a real and perceived conflict, Lines emphasizes that the latter does not apply “because the concept of a perceived conflict of interest is not based on impressions”.

“It’s based on what a reasonable and honest observer would perceive based on factual information and evidence,” he said.

“Putting myself in the position of that reasonable and honest observer, I was able to take into account all the information that was in the public arena, and what we knew about Ms. Chapman’s property interests and living situation…

“When I did, I came to the conclusion that while it appeared that she would have listed the property for tourist accommodation, the details of the development application did not suggest there would be an impact on the availability of tourist accommodation and normally to enter.”

He said an alleged conflict of interest “isn’t just about how it looks from a distance”.

“It’s more involved — it’s that objective reasonable observer who’s looked at all the information,” he said.

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