Steven Marshall south australia
Premier of South Australia Steven Marshall (Image: AAP/David Mariuz)

SA scandalwatch!

When multiple scandals recently broke about South Australian frontbenchers misusing their parliamentary entitlements, Premier Steven Marshall proudly announced that his government would be throwing the matter over to the auditor general to clear the matter up once and for all. 

And that would be impressively transparent if the Marshall government wasn’t now claiming that all the documents about the scheme are protected under parliamentary privilege and thus won’t be given to the state’s Independent Commission Against Corruption, which is actually carrying out an investigation

“I do not believe that this is a government which is trying to sweep these problems under the mat,” Marshall insisted back in July. “In fact, by contrast, what we are doing is shining a light on these issues.” Which doesn’t really jibe with what ICAC is saying, which is that they won’t be able to carry an investigation out if the Liberals continue to stonewall.

It’s also complicated by the fact that current commissioner Bruce Lander retires at the end of the month and thus the investigation may be binned by his successor, former judge Ann Vanstone.

It’s not even the first time that the government has announced an investigation and then seemingly lost interest in seeing the investigation actually happen. 

Back in April, South Australia’s Equal Opportunity Commissioner Niki Vincent was tapped by the government to produce a report on former Liberal (now independent) MP Sam Duluk, who has been charged with basic assault regarding his behaviour towards SA Best upper house MP Connie Bonaros at last year’s cross-bench Christmas party. 

Vincent pointed out she wasn’t authorised to carry out investigations into individual MPs, but could instead do a broader report on workplace harassment in the parliament and make some recommendations. This was contingent upon both houses giving permission for this report, ideally in April toward a proposed deadline of August 31.

That deadline is coming up next week, and Vincent has yet to hear back from the government about that permission stuff, or indeed anything else. It’s probably because everything’s fine, right? 

And if you feel like allegations of men in positions of authority getting handsy are hitting epidemic proportions in South Australia, you’d be right.

An investigation into the University of Adelaide’s vice chancellor Peter Rathjen, who resigned citing “ill health” back in July, found that his behaviour with regards two female staffers was “entirely inappropriate” and showed “egregious disrespect” — and that he lied to both the university’s Chancellor and the SA ICAC about the matter.

Dudes, seriously. Be better.

NSI: Canberra

Being the attorney-general requires remembering a whole lot of very complicated stuff, and if you’re an attorney-general who lives in Perth it also means that you’re expected to do a lot on reading on long flights when you could be watching an entire series of The Big Bang Theory instead.

Thus it’s no shock that Christian Porter might let the odd thing slip his mind, like tabling his national security information (NSI) orders in parliament at any time over the past three years.

From 2010 to 2017 not a single NSI had been used, but since then ol’ Portsy has been doling them out willy-nilly in the interests of national secur… sorry, that should read “in the interests of uncovering whistleblowers who irk the government” (see Witness K and Bernard Collaery). 

NSI orders are super-fun because not only do you get to withhold your evidence from the public, you also get to withhold it from the person you’re prosecuting.

After former senator Nick Xenophon asked about the matter on Q&A, reports were quietly plonked online — giving journalist Kieran Adair the chance to check through — giving the number of NSIs which had been issued over things like terrorism investigations (none) and which seemed to be used against “men who served their country honourably and felt morally compelled to reveal dishonourable activities” (literally all of them). 

This week in unsubstantiated optimism

It’s been ages since we’ve heard from James Ashby — Pauline Hanson’s helicopter pilot-slash-chief of staff — and frankly, we’ve been worried about the guy. 

He last appeared in dispatches in February 2019 when he had his parliamentary pass revoked for having a physical dust-up with former One Nation senator Brian Burston.

And that then slid straight into March 2019 when al-Jazeera’s special “How To Sell A Massacre” featured copious footage of Ashby and Queensland party leader Steve Dickson in the US apparently attempting to solicit money from the National Rifle Association. Ah, it was a more innocent time. 

And given his colourful antics in recent years it’s easy to forget that he came to the nation’s notice as a staffer for former speaker of the House Peter Slipper.

Ashby had claimed that Slipper sexually harassed him via text message, — a claim made reportedly with the fierce encouragement of LNP figures including Mal Brough and Christopher Pyne — but the case was initially dismissed from the federal court for being politically motivated. That ruling was overturned on appeal in 2014, but Ashby dropped it altogether shortly thereafter. 

But that wasn’t the end of the matter. In fact, The Guardian reports that the Commonwealth was still hitting him up for the $87,696 he apparently owes them in legal costs only a couple of months back, while his personal debt to his legal team is reportedly sitting at an eye-watering $3,667,840.

An attempt to get the Department of Finance to pay the debt with an “act of grace” payment ended with a ruling of “nah” in May this year, on the grounds that Ashby had accepted a $50,000 settlement in 2012 to release the Commonwealth from any future claims.

So now Ashby has decided to sue the government for $3.67 million instead.

His argument is that he’s a whistleblower who deserves protection — although if he’d read the previous story in this column he’d be aware that term doesn’t exactly win fans with this particular administration. 

Peter Fray

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