Embattled former South Australian deputy premier Vickie Chapman has been banned from parliament for six days as the dramatic fallout from this month’s vote of no confidence escalated on Tuesday, with the government losing another crucial vote on the House of Assembly floor.
Ms Chapman was not present for the historic vote, in which a 23-22 majority of MPs in the 47-seat parliament voted to suspend her for the equivalent of two sitting weeks.
“The Attorney-General has been suspended form the House for six days,” said Speaker Dan Cregan, directing that Tuesday marked the first of those days and directing parliament’s Sergeant-at-Arms to convey a copy of the decision to Ms Chapman.
Mr Cregan was not called upon to vote, with crossbenchers Sam Duluk, Troy Bell, Geoff Brock and Frances Bedford backing Labor against Ms Chapman, while exiled Liberal Fraser Ellis voted with the government.
The Attorney-General-in-exile did not vote, and she did not speak against the motion in her defence – but no explanation was given for her absence.
Mr Chapman made a short but defiant statement to media at a press conference held not at parliament but across the road from the State Administration building on Flinders Street.
“I just indicate that I note of course the decision of the parliament and as a result I’ll be complying with six days leave from the parliament as a result,” she said.
“My view is well-known in relation to the select committee of inquiry and its alleged finding of facts, and that’s a matter the substance of which is now being considered by the Ombudsman – I welcome that and I’ll be continuing the legal work to prepare for that inquiry.
“So I will of course otherwise see you all at the election, and of course proceed with the preparations for that campaign… so thank you very much for your attendance and I look forward to seeing you during the campaign.”
She then left without taking questions.
Ms Chapman has been under intense pressure since a parliamentary inquiry found she had a real and perceived conflict of interest as Planning Minister when she vetoed a $40 million project on her native Kangaroo Island.
The island’s mayor, Michael Pengilly – a former Liberal MP – tweeted after the vote that the decision was a “disgrace” and a “low moment for the SA parliament”.
The committee’s report – which was not backed by its two Liberal members but supported by ex-Liberal crossbencher Sam Duluk – also found Ms Chapman had misled parliament and breached the ministerial code of conduct.
She later stood down as deputy premier and initially “stepped aside” from her ministries.
She has since given up the portfolios of planning and local government altogether, but remains as Attorney-General, albeit without acting in the role pending the outcome of an Ombudsman’s inquiry resulting from the committee report.
However, her refusal to resign from the ministry prompted Labor, backed by a majority of crossbenchers, to push ahead with a matter of privilege against her, based on the committee’s finding that Ms Chapman misled parliament three times about the impact of the proposed development on her landholdings on the island.
Labor MP Andrea Michaels, who chaired the committee, moved a motion seeking a six-day suspension – two days for each finding of misleading the house.
She said it was “bitterly disappointing that the Attorney continues to be so defiant in the face of all evidence to the committee that she is putting the House in this position”.
But Education Minister John Gardner called the push a “nasty, personal, vindictive motion … born of malice that should be disregarded by this parliament”.
Labor committee member Tom Koutsantonis said Tuesday’s vote would have been unnecessary if Mr Chapman had resigned from the ministry, which is the “appropriate convention” for losing a vote of no confidence in the lower house.
“Had she resigned, that is sufficient punishment,” he said.
“[But] if a parliamentarian can deliberately mislead this parliament and get away with it, our representative democracy crumbles.”
This article first appeared in InDaily and is republished here with permission.