Shadow Treasurer Rob Lucas today asked the Anti-Corruption Branch of the South Australian Police Force to consider whether criminal charges should be laid against Attorney General Michael Atkinson.
Stunning allegations against Mr Atkinson were made at a Legislative Council Select Committee meeting this week by Mr Gary Lockwood who is a close confidante of former Labor Deputy Leader Ralph Clarke and is now employed by Labor MP Frances Bedford.
The Anti-Corruption Branch has been asked to examine whether any criminal offences had been committed by the Attorney-General and in particular whether Mr Atkinson’s actions in relation to Mr Lockwood constituted an attempt to interfere in the course of justice.
Mr Lockwood made a statement to Police in mid 2003 when the Anti-Corruption Branch was investigating whether charges could be laid against Mr Atkinson, Mr Ashbourne and others in relation to the allegations that board positions were offered to Ralph Clarke in return for Mr Clarke dropping a private defamation action against Mr Atkinson.
At that time Mr Lockwood was a potential witness against Mr Atkinson or Mr Ashbourne if criminal charges were laid. In the end corruption charges only proceeded against Mr Ashbourne.
Mr Lockwood’s allegations were:
• That Mr Atkinson had tried to pressure Mr Lockwood’s employer, Labor MP Robyn Geraghty in November 2003 to sack Mr Lockwood.
• That Mr Atkinson had also tried to pressure Mr Lockwood’s employer Labor MP Frances Bedford in April 2005 to sack Mr Lockwood.
It is arguable that the best interests of Mr Atkinson and the Rann Government would be served if no-one, including Mr Ashbourne, was found guilty of political corruption on the issue.
Therefore if Mr Lockwood’s allegations are correct then Mr Lockwood’s livelihood and future actions might have been affected by the actions of Mr Atkinson.
Legal advice indicates that this issue and related issues should be investigated by the Anti-Corruption Branch to consider whether or not any criminal offences have been committed by the Attorney-General.
It will obviously be very important in establishing the truth of these allegations that Mr Lockwood’s employers Labor MPs Robyn Geraghty and Frances Bedford co-operate fully with the police in any Anti-Corruption Branch investigation.
Whether or not the Anti-Corruption Branch eventually decide to press charges against the hapless Mr Atkinson it is clear he has become a major embarrassment to the Rann Government as he lurches from crisis to crisis.
Irrespective of whether these allegations warrant criminal charges, the issue of improper conduct of a Minister of the Crown will be pursued by the Parliamentary Select Committee.