Explosive evidence from the Rann Government’s former senior legal adviser has seen Mr Rann’s inquiry into the Atkinson/Ashbourne affair described as ‘inept’, Shadow Treasurer Rob Lucas said today.
Former Crown Solicitor Mike Walter QC, in evidence to the Legislative Council Select Committee in to the affair, dismissed Mr Rann’s inquiry conducted by his Departmental Chief Executive Warren McCann as follows:
“Mr McCann performed an inept investigation. Not only did he fail to interview most of the relevant witnesses but his actions led to some evidence being ruled inadmissible by the trial judge. He failed to give Ashbourne a caution, which in turn led the trial judge, in the exercise of his discretion, to exclude the record of interview with Mr Ashbourne.”
Mr Walter was the person who, when he was first briefed on the issue, told the Rann Government it had to be referred immediately to the SA Police Anti-Corruption Branch for investigation. Mr Rann and Mr Atkinson had managed to keep the affair secret for seven months until the Liberal Party raised the issue in June 2003.
Mr Walter disagreed strongly with some views expressed by the Auditor-General at a previous Committee meeting and also argued that it was impossible for anyone to come to a considered view as to whether there had been any breach of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 based on the information provided by the McCann inquiry.
Mr Walter also warned that people’s recollections of the events of 2002 might already have been affected by the seven-month delay in referring it to police.
Other evidence given by Mr Walter included:
“I took the view that the allegations contained in the statements to Mr McCann on their face could give rise to a suspicion that offences had been committed against either sections 249, 251 or 253 of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act.”
“The allegations, at their highest, could have also supported a charge against the Attorney-General and Mr Ashbourne pursuant to section 251. That offence could have been made out if it could have been established that either the Attorney-General or Mr Ashbourne improperly used their positions as Attorney-General or a member of the Premier’s staff to secure a benefit for themselves or another.”
“The problem that I have with what happened here is that the allegation was not of a disciplinary kind: the allegation, at its highest, was of corruption. The allegation was that a deal was done. ‘You drop the defamation proceedings and we’ll give you positions on government boards.’ If that is not corruption, I’ll go he.”
“I stressed in my advice that I had no preliminary views as to whether criminal offences had been committed; rather, I was of the view that it was simply not possible to make any proper assessment in the absence of a police investigation.”
“He [the Auditor-General] has no role in the investigation and prosecution of criminal offences. It is not for the Auditor-General to investigate possible criminal offences: that is the function of the police. It is not for the Auditor-General to make a determination that a matter should be prosecuted in the courts: that is for the Director of Public Prosecutions. It is not for the Auditor-General to provide legal advice to government: that is for the Crown Solicitor.”
“… the test for determining whether an investigation or even a prosecution is warranted cannot be based on the verdict of the jury or even the length of time the jury takes to reach its verdict. If that were the case, half the persons charged with rape who go on trial and who are eventually acquitted should not have been charged or, on the Auditor-General’s evidence, investigated. This position is patently absurd.”