The South Australian Liberal Party’s use of campaign software NationBuilder has been referred to the Office of Public Integrity (OPI) for assessment over potential issues of misconduct or maladministration.
The state’s ombudsman, Wayne Lines, revealed the news to a parliamentary committee this morning.
The use of NationBuilder was the subject of several exclusive ABC stories in April, which revealed that visitors to official state government websites had been redirected through the Liberal Party’s NationBuilder account.
NationBuilder can be used to build a database of individual profiles by collecting email addresses and phone numbers, and through tracking a user’s behaviour across third-party websites.
At the time, Premier Steven Marshall denied that the government had deliberately collected data via the redirections through government websites.
The state’s Privacy Committee later concluded it was “probable” the government did not facilitate unauthorised data collection from government website users.
But fronting parliament’s Crime and Public Integrity Policy Committee this morning, Ombudsman Wayne Lines said he had conducted his own assessment of the information, before referring the matter to the Office of Public Integrity.
“I’ve completed my assessment and information that is available to me is that the error or the problem has not arisen from within a government agency over which I have jurisdiction,” he said.
Asked whether the problem had arisen in the Liberal Party, Mr Lines said “yes”.
“So you have found corruption, maladministration and misconduct and referred it to the OPI?,” Labor frontbencher Tom Koutsantonis asked.
“Yes,” the Ombudsman replied.
“On behalf of a political party, the Liberal Party?”
Mr Lines said he had not established factual evidence of data being collected, but had referred the matter as one of “potential” misconduct or maladministration.
He said he had not heard if the OPI had progressed the matter.
The OPI has the power to refer misconduct or maladministration matters to other agencies, including the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption, for investigation.
Mr Lines said he had informed the Premier’s office about the referral.
Mr Marshall was asked at a press conference about the ombudsman’s evidence moments after it was delivered.
“A referral on isn’t a determination of guilt and I think that’s been the issue with regards to this all the way along,” Mr Marshall said.
“We’ve made it very clear that there was no data harvesting, there was no collection of data and I think that was proven to be completely and utterly factual.
“It was quite a media frenzy for I think weeks if not months where media were out there making pretty outrageous allegations which all proved to be completely and utterly incorrect.”
Government to consider bill to strip ICAC of some powers
The revelation came as the government revealed it was considering voting today for an SA Best bill which would strip ICAC of its power to investigate misconduct and maladministration, with some amendments.
The bill has drawn a stinging rebuke from the current ICAC, Ann Vanstone, who told the parliamentary committee the bill would “dismantle” ICAC and build “a shelter for politicians”.
“If this, or a similar bill, is passed by the Parliament then it will be plain that politicians do not want an ICAC in South Australia,” she said.
“It’s as simple as that.
“The first thing about this bill which hits one in the eye is that the shelter for politicians, that is parliamentary privilege, is to be built into a 20-foot wall.
“An immediate aim seems to be to protect themselves from scrutiny.”
Two MPs, Troy Bell and Fraser Ellis, are currently facing criminal charges as a result of ICAC investigations, while some other country MPs remain under active investigation over their use of parliamentary allowances.
Ms Vanstone said it was “extraordinary” those MPs would be able to vote on the bill to restrict ICAC’s jurisdiction and powers.
“Where else in this state could such a conflict of interest be tolerated?” she said.
Ms Vanstone said the bill would prevent ICAC from launching an investigation without first receiving a complaint.
“This is an important power,” she said.
“The assessment and investigations of all the country members were commenced by [former commissioner Bruce Lander] in this way.
“If this bill is passed I could read about potential corruption in the newspaper but be powerless to investigate it unless it was reported to the OPI and referred to me.”
Ms Vanstone said the bill would make it difficult for ICAC to investigate the NationBuilder complaints, which had been referred by the ombudsman to the OPI.
“Under this bill, I wouldn’t see those complaints at all … because the OPI would send them to the ombudsman,” Ms Vanstone said.
Treasurer Rob Lucas had earlier told ABC Radio Adelaide there were many in government who supported some reform to ICAC.
He said the government would consider supporting the bill put forward by SA Best MLC Frank Pangallo, with significant amendments.
“We’re still discussing elements of those further amendments,” Mr Lucas said.
“The issue of whether a corruption commission should concentrate on corruption as opposed to other areas, such as misconduct evaluations, is certainly a view I have held for a long time.
“We have other bodies, the ombudsman, Office of Public Integrity, Auditor-General … to look at a whole variety of other areas of maladministration within government administration.”Internet Explorer Channel Network