On 18 November 2021, I received a referral from the Select Committee on Conduct of the Hon. Vickie Chapman MP regarding Kangaroo Island Port Application (the referral).
The Select Committee has referred the following matters to me pursuant to section 14(1) of the Ombudsman Act 1972:
- any matter relevant to whether or not the Attorney-General had a conflict of interest in determining the Smith Bay application;
- any breach of the Ministerial Code of Conduct; and
- the role that any other public officer undertook relevant to the Attorney-General’s decision, including the role and responsibility of the Premier, Chief Executives and other public officers, including Crown Law Officers.
Section 14(2) of the Ombudsman Act requires me to carry out an investigation into any matter referred under section 14 (provided that the matter is within my jurisdiction as only matters within my jurisdiction may be referred to me).
Before commencing an investigation, for the purposes of transparency, I have considered it necessary to write to the Committee and the various parties involved in the referral (the interested parties) to outline my statutory and other relationships with those parties. Relationships of particular relevance include that my Office is funded through a State Budget allocation through the Attorney-General’s Department, all my staff are employed with the Attorney-General’s Department, albeit assigned to my Office and under my direction, and from time to time I met with Ms Chapman in her role as head of the Attorney-General’s Department to discuss operational matters.
My view is that none of these relationships give rise to an actual conflict of interest. To the extent that these relationships may give rise to a perceived conflict of interest, I consider that any such conflicts have and will be appropriately managed so as not to impact on the impartiality and independence of my investigation.
In all of the circumstances, however, I consider that it is appropriate that the interested parties be given the opportunity to comment on this issue before an investigation is commenced. I have requested that their comments are provided to me by no later than 1 December 2021. I will consider any comments before an investigation is commenced. It is of utmost importance that everyone involved in the referral has confidence in the process and fundamental to that process is that it is conducted impartially and independently. If any of the interested parties have a reasonable objection to my carriage of the investigation due to a perceived conflict of interest, I will consider delegating the function of investigating to a suitable person outside of my Office.
I have issued this statement publicly as I believe it to be in the public interest for everyone to be aware of the approach I have taken to ensure the integrity of the process. Once an investigation is commenced, the Ombudsman Act requires it to be conducted in private and I do not intend on issuing any further public statements until the investigation is concluded. I take this opportunity to emphasise that the Ombudsman Act limits the circumstances in which those involved in the investigation can disclose information about the investigation and that breaches of the confidentiality provisions of the Act attract serious penalties.