SA premier’s office withdraws request in breach of ministerial code of conduct

By Melissa Coade

Monday July 12, 2021

Public servants in the premier’s office were asked to help prepare for a Liberal state politician’s formal gala dinner. (seraphic06 /Adobe)

Hours after an official request from the South Australian premier’s office was lodged asking for the department’s multicultural affairs group to prepare an event briefing and speech notes for a Liberal party fundraising dinner, it was withdrawn when the applicant twigged the request was improper.

Freedom of information (FOI) documents obtained by Labor show that a request made by a ministerial liaison officer (a public service position) working in premier Steven Marshall’s office erroneously asked for public servants in the premier’s office to help prepare for a Liberal state politician’s formal gala dinner.

Adelaide’s In Daily reports that the request, or ‘function brief’, called for public servants to prepare an event briefing and speech notes for the $180-a-head dinner in celebration of SA MLC Jing Lee’s 10 years in parliament. 

Some of the details outlined in the request for the department’s help included talking points for the premier’s speech such as ‘Jing’s achievements throughout 11 years in parliament’, ‘personal anecdotes about Jing’, and ‘best and only assistant minister for the premier!’.

The South Australian government told the online publication that the request was made in error and ‘the department advises it did not expend any resources on this event’. 

“A staff member sent a request for speaking notes and a briefing,” a spokesperson said. 

“Several hours later they realised the error and cancelled it.”

A government spokesperson also told In Daily that the function brief and proposed talking points had originated from Lee’s office, not the Premier’s Office, as per a usual practice where event hosts are given a form to complete.

The request was made a few days before Lee’s fundraising bash, which was a controversial event on its own terms. The dinner was attended by about 900 guests and drew criticism from SA Labor for not mentioning the Liberal party in its advertising, despite all proceeds of the event going back to the political party.

Ms Lee argues that it was apparent the event must have been a fundraising event because people know that she is a member of the Liberal party. 

According to the FOI records, the person who made the request for department assistance noted when they withdrew their application some hours later that the event was political (it is a breach of the SA ministerial code of conduct to use department resources for party political activities).

“I was in auto pilot mode this morning but have since realised this is party related so we do not expect a speech from Multicultural,” the liaison officer noted.

The SA Opposition have also queried whether official databases for the Department of the Premier and Cabinet or the South Australian Multicultural and Ethnic Affairs Commission were used to identify multicultural groups to invite to the event.


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