New SA corruption watchdog picks up where Lander left off

By Shannon Jenkins

Monday September 7, 2020


South Australian anti-corruption commissioner Ann Vanstone will continue the corruption investigation into accommodation allowance claims made by Liberal MPs Adrian Pederick, Terry Stephens, and Fraser Ellis.

The probe was commenced in July by Bruce Lander, who left his role as Independent Commissioner Against Corruption on September 1.

In the lead up to his departure, Lander announced that he had sought information from MPs and their staff relating to claims made for the Country Members Accommodation Allowance — which pays MPs who live more than 75 kilometres away from Adelaide’s CBD $234 a night when staying in Adelaide.

He noted that some individuals had not provided documents because they may have been protected by parliamentary privilege, delaying the investigation.

Vanstone on Monday confirmed that she would continue the investigation into the three men.

She said she had contacted the MPs’ solicitors on Friday advising them of her decision, but had withdrawn Lander’s notices requiring information.

“However, I asked that each of them voluntarily provide a narrower group of documents,” she said.

“In the cases of Mr Stephens and Mr Pederick the documents I sought relate to proof of their places of residence at relevant times. For Mr Ellis, the documents go to his incurring actual expenditure during nights he stayed in Adelaide and also to demonstrate a requirement that he be in Adelaide on the occasions when claims were made. These documents could take various forms.”

The MPs have agreed to provide the documents to Vanstone as soon as practicable, but in the case of Ellis, “an issue of parliamentary privilege might still arise, depending on what documents he discloses”, she added.

Read more: Next SA anti-corruption commissioner named

The investigation was prompted by an ABC News report on Stephens’ property arrangements, and led to the resignations of transport minister Stephan Knoll, trade minister David Ridgway, and primary industries minister Tim Whetstone.

Pederick, Stephens, and Ellis confirmed they were being investigated in a joint statement last week, stating they “vehemently deny any allegations of criminality”.

They also denied that they were using parliamentary privilege to stymie the probe, stating the information Lander had asked for “required production of documents evidencing communications and interactions with our constituents about what is happening in government, including the parliament”.

“Self-evidently, the requirement captured information and documents that would ordinarily be kept confidential and protected by parliamentary privilege,” the statement said.

“It expressly included documents such as diary entries and records of appointments, and also naturally extended to notes of meetings.”

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