The Integrity Commission has dismissed a complaint alleging misconduct arising from a personal relationship between Minister Sarah Courtney and departmental head, Dr John Whittington, following an extensive assessment of the facts.
The Commission today tabled its assessment report (PDF, 528.8 KB) in State Parliament, in a departure from its usual practice of only tabling investigation reports. The Commission’s Board made the decision to table the assessment outcomes in the public interest.
The complaint related to the development of a relationship late last year between Ms Courtney (as then-Minister for Primary Industries and Water), and Dr Whittington as Secretary of the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment.
The Commission found there was little likelihood of any improper conduct on behalf of the Minister or Dr Whittington, and that it would be an unjustifiable use of the Commission’s resources to investigate further.
The Commission’s report details the processes, evidence and outcomes of a review conducted by the head of the Department of Premier and Cabinet, Jenny Gale; as well as investigations conducted by Damian Bugg QC, appointed by the Premier to investigate whether Ms Courtney had breached the Ministerial Code, and Leigh Sealy SC, engaged to determine whether Dr Whittington had breached the State Service Act.
The Commission concluded that the DPAC review had been independent and thorough, and that highly experienced, qualified and independent investigators had been engaged to conduct the two investigations.
In arriving at its conclusions, it considered:
- materials prepared by DPAC staff relating to the review of relevant decisions by the Minister, as well as emails, credit card records and leave and travel arrangements, and
- material prepared and examined by Mr Bugg and Mr Sealy as part of their investigations.
Allegations relating to the Premier’s response to the potential conflict of interest and his subsequent appointment of Ms Courtney to the Resources and Building and Construction portfolios were also dismissed, as Minister Courtney had been found to have no material conflict of interest.
The report noted that it was open for Mr Bugg to conclude that, while there was no material conflict of interest, the Minister had breached the Ministerial Code on the basis of a perception of conflict of interest albeit for a brief period between the relationship starting and her disclosing it to the Premier, and that this had not been a serious breach.