Politics

‘The matter is now at an end’: Stephens vows to move on after ICAC probe


Liberal MLC Terry Stephens today returned to his seat at the helm of state parliament’s Upper House after being cleared of prospective charges after an extensive investigation into potential misuse of entitlements.

The office of the Director of Public Prosecutions today confirmed it would not lay charges against Stephens after receiving a brief from Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Ann Vanstone last year.

Stephens did not comment publicly this morning but delivered a speech shortly after the Legislative Council resumed this afternoon for a final week of sitting before the March election.

The sitting week has been complicated by strict COVID restrictions, with all members required to submit to two Rapid Antigen tests during the course of the three days, and with John Dawkins – who controversially replaced Stephens as president after his resignation at the height of the Country Members Allowance scandal – absent as a close COVID contact.

This meant members had to vote on a new deputy president to temporarily preside over proceedings – with Stephens elected unopposed.

Returning to the president’s chair for the first time since his July 2020 resignation, Stephens read a short prepared statement.

“In June 2020, allegations were made by the ABC about my claims for the country members accommodation allowance – those allegations were referred to the former Independent Commissioner Against Corruption [Bruce Lander] who commenced an investigation,” he said.

“As a result I stood down from the presidency of the council… I have always maintained my innocence.”

He said that last week “I was advised by the current ICAC that I would not be prosecuted in relation to my claims for the country members accommodation allowance [and] this has been confirmed by the Office of the DPP”.

He tabled correspondence from the ICAC “confirming the position”.

“From my perspective, the matter is now at an end,” he said.

“Now is the time for my family and I to move on with our lives – I will not be making any comment and have nothing further to add.”

Stephens thanked “the members of this council who know me well for their support”.

Stephens was the first MP to be implicated into the potential misuse of the country members allowance, which entitles MPs in regional areas to claim a daily stipend on days they were working in Adelaide.

An ABC report into Stephens’ travel claims sparked a broader scandal that claimed the ministerial scalps of Stephan Knoll and Tim Whetstone, and saw Hammond MP Adrian Pederick resign as Government whip.

However, to date only two MPs – then-Liberal backbencher Fraser Ellis and Mount Gambier independent Troy Bell – have been charged over alleged misuse of their allowance claims.

In September, Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Ann Vanstone revealed she had handed briefs of evidence concerning two MPs, now understood to be Bell and Stephens, to the Director of Public Prosecutions for evaluation.

Premier Steven Marshall today told reporters he had “had a heads up from Terry Stephens that he’d been contacted by the DPP with that information, so look I’m sure that’s a huge relief”.

“This has been quite a saga – it’s been a huge pressure on Terry Stephens and in particular on his family,” he said.

“I’m sure he’ll be very relieved that this is no longer under consideration. He can just get on with continuing to deliver in the South Australian Parliament.”

An ICAC spokesperson told InDaily: “I can confirm that the Country Members Accommodation Allowance investigations have concluded.”

“As for whether or not the DPP have determined to prosecute Mr Stephens, that is a question you will need to put to the Director,” they said.

The DPP’s office said in a statement: “The Director confirms that, after the conduct of a thorough and proper investigation, the ODPP received a brief of evidence from the ICAC concerning the Hon Terry Stephens MLC and claims made by him for certain allowances as a Member of Parliament.”

“That brief was vetted by lawyers within the ODPP in addition to an opinion being obtained from external counsel,” the statement said.

“It has been determined, in accordance with the ODPP Guidelines, that any prosecution arising from the brief would not have reasonable prospects of success.

“Accordingly, no charges will be laid.”

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