Bombshell evidence from former Labor Deputy Leader Ralph Clarke has blown Attorney-General Michael Atkinson’s story out of the water and caused turmoil for Premier Mike Rann and his Government, according to Shadow Treasurer Rob Lucas.
Mr Clarke has today given evidence and revealed key facts for the first time – to the Legislative Council Select Committee on the Atkinson/Ashbourne affair – after not being interviewed for the previous inquiry on this issue and subsequent corruption court case.
Mr Clarke has given evidence today confirming he was offered two government board positions as part of a settlement for him dropping a private defamation action against Mr Atkinson. He stated that Randall Ashbourne (then Mr Rann’s senior political adviser) had acted on Mr Atkinson’s behalf in the negotiations and that on all key occasions Mr Ashbourne had said ‘I’ll have to talk to Mick’ or ‘Mick has agreed to this or Mick won’t agree to that.’
Some of the key aspects of Mr Clarke’s evidence included:
• The mysterious disappearance of a key piece of evidence which was a handwritten note from Mr Clarke and handed to Mr Ashbourne in November 2002 which summarised all of the details of the deal between Mr Atkinson and Mr Clarke
• Before agreeing to the final deal he had had general discussions about the deal with up to ten Labor figures including Legislative Council President Ron Roberts, former Labor Senator Chris Schacht and former Labor MP Murray DeLaine
• Mr Ashbourne had told him that Mr Atkinson had offered to resign in late 2002 over the issue, contrary to Mr Atkinson’s statement to Parliament in June 2003
• Mr Clarke had had a recent discussion with Labor MP Frances Bedford who had complained about Mr Atkinson’s bullying attempt to get her to sack Mr Clarke’s friend Gary Lockwood and that she had spoken to the police about the bullying and had considered the possibility of taking out an AVO (apprehended violence order) against Mr Atkinson
“It is now clear why Mr Rann tried to cover up this whole affair right from the start and it would never have become a public issue unless the Liberal Party had started questioning it in June 2003,” Mr Lucas said today.
“It is also now clear why Mr Rann has strongly opposed the operation of the Legislative Council Select Committee finally revealing what he must consider the uncomfortable truth on this issue.
“If this issue had been referred to police when first raised in November 2002 then key pieces of evidence such as the ‘smoking gun’ handwritten note of Mr Clarke might have been discovered.
“Mr Rann’s decision to cover this up meant the trail had gone cold when police were finally investigating more than seven months later.
“Mr Clarke’s bombshell evidence today means that Mr Rann has no option but to sack the hapless Mr Atkinson. He has been an embarrassment not only to himself and his Government but also to the Parliament as he lurches from crisis to crisis.”