It comes as Prime Minister Steven Marshall today declared that he stood “shoulder to shoulder” with his conflicting MP, disapproving of the opposition’s demands for her dismissal, and claiming: “I support her 100 percent.”
As Chapman’s investigation marked a “witch hunt” continued today, the committee was led by the manager of Policy Planning and Strategic Evaluation Robert Kleeman, who told parliament he had prepared a minute to facilitate a delegation of authority “in the event that the Minister for Planning declared conflict [of interest]In the matter.
Chapman, who comes from Kangaroo Island and owns property there, took the Planning portfolio in the middle of last year, and chose not to recuse himself from deciding the fate of the Kangaroo Island Plantation Timbers port plan.
Kleeman said the department has made possible plans to appoint fellow frontman Michelle Lensink as interim minister, but is not sure where the plan originated.
He said he had “received an email” from managing director Sally Smith asking him to prepare a minute “on the possibility that there could be a conflict”, but “it is still for then a decision maker to determine”.
“But [we had] be prepared if the decision-maker solves that problem and requires a delegation, ”he said.
He said the email was “to say‘ let’s be ready for this if the minister resolves ’’ that she had a conflict.
“We didn’t form a vision – we just prepared the information ready,” he said.
Kleeman confirmed he had written to Chapman saying he “was advised that you might consider delegating the decision and that your colleague may be appointed as interim Minister for Planning and Local Government”.
Asked whether preparing for such an eventuality is unusual, Kleeman said it is to facilitate a quick decision if Chapman will challenge himself, but that “it is up to the decision maker to advise whether they are. [conflicted] or not “.
He said the department’s final advice to the minister was that “in balance the project is acceptable, conditioned by … a whole range of conditions to enable the work to be undertaken”.
Adviser assisting the investigation Rachael Gray QC asked Kleeman if his “recommendation in the assessment report was that the [port] proposal should be approved with conditions, “to which he replied,” Yes. “
The assessment also considered an independent review by Councilor Wavelength, who identified 20 suitable locations for the port on the island, and listed nine “for more evidence-based analysis”.
That report concluded that there was “no single prominent site on the island” but that “Smith Bay has ranked better than other possible locations and is a suitable location for a potential port”.
Kleeman said he was listed as the liaison officer for a minute sent to Chapman summarizing the final appraisal report before her decision not to allow the port to proceed.
He agreed that the July 2021 report, the minute and advice of the state planning commission “all recommended, with conditions, the approval of the project”.
“But that doesn’t derogate from the minister’s ability to make a different decision,” he said.
Kleeman was also worried about evidence heard from the investigation earlier this week in which former KIPT officials suggested that engagement with the department’s firm had dried up after Chapman took over the ministry.
“That’s not my memory,” he said, suggesting officials are instead busy evaluating the project and handling government change machinery.
“It could be their perspective [that the Government had stopped engaging] but it wasn’t as a result of that … we were just busy doing the work, ”he said.
It came when Marshall today rejected demands for Chapman’s resignation, saying she “was the subject of a very extensive mud exercise”.
“Honestly, the reality is that the Attorney General is doing an outstanding job in his role as Minister of Planning. [and is] is well aware of her role in managing the actions under her jurisdiction, ”he told reporters.
Asked if he spoke to her about a possible conflict, he said: “I’m just referring you to my previous answer – I have 100 percent confidence in Vickie Chapman.”
Marshall said that “the reality is that every person in SA knows that Vickie Chapman is from Kangaroo Island.”
“That doesn’t mean she can’t make the right decision,” he said.
However, Kleeman told the committee he was personally “agnostic about land ownership on the island.”
Asked if he was aware the minister had land holdings there, he said, “I didn’t know that, no.”
Kleeman was asked if he was surprised by Chapman’s ultimate decision.
“It’s always up to the decision maker to make that call,” he said.
“It was heavily contested, it was finely balanced … at the end of a thorough process – and a decision was made.”
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