Premier laughs off Liberal claims against Labor’s Dunstan candidate

Premier Peter Malinauskas has dismissed Liberal Party questions about whether Labor candidate Cressida O’Hanlon breached integrity standards because she received an email from her husband discussing access to government decision-makers.

Feb 23, 2024, updated Feb 23, 2024
Premier Peter Malinauskas is standing by Dunstan candidate Cressida O'Hanlon after the Liberal Party aired claims against her under parliamentary privilege. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Premier Peter Malinauskas is standing by Dunstan candidate Cressida O'Hanlon after the Liberal Party aired claims against her under parliamentary privilege. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Opposition frontbencher Michelle Lensink tabled an email in the Upper House on Wednesday purportedly sent by James O’Hanlon, director of South Australian defence firm Citadel Secure, to his wife Cressida O’Hanlon, Labor’s candidate for the Dunstan by-election.

The context of the email is not clear as it was the only one tabled. It was sent on February 7, 2023, from James’ business email to Cressida’s personal email with the subject line “FW: talking points v2”.

James O'Hanlon email

The email sent on February 7, 2023. Image: supplied

Citadel Secure describes itself as a “fully integrated advisory firm” that helps defence clients “build businesses that resonate with key stakeholders, foster partnerships and secure commercial opportunities for both domestic and international growth”.

The Opposition says neither the firm nor James O’Hanlon appear to be on the registered lobbyist list and raised questions about whether this would constitute a breach of the Lobbyists Act.

Labor says the firm does not engage in lobbying.

James’ email to Cressida states: “Seeking a meeting with the minister or Chief of Staff to discuss a proposal to deliver foreign aid as platform/capability that will: 1. enhance regional relationships, 2. give export opportunity to Australian companies and 3. increase Australia’s SW Pacific security and situational awareness of the region.”

Cressida was a staffer for Labor MLC Reggie Martin at the time the email was sent. Lensink claimed the email “would seem to clearly breach… integrity standards”.

There has been no evidence presented at this stage that the email led to a meeting with any state government ministers. It’s also unclear which minister is being referred to and if they are state or federal.

Shadow Attorney-General Josh Teague, under the protection of parliamentary privilege, claimed on Thursday that the email shows “Ms O’Hanlon’s spouse sought access to government decision-makers to discuss financial gain for his business while she was employed on the staff of the Honourable Reggie Martin MLC”.

Teague asked the Premier whether he had discussed the matter with Cressida.

“I’m sincerely grateful for the Shadow Attorney-General deciding to ask this question because it speaks to a major revelation, an extraordinary revelation that a husband would send a wife their email,” the Premier said.

“I’ve read the email and, Mr Speaker, I’ve got to say I’ve never been more underwhelmed by a revelation from the Opposition when I heard an email from a small business owner, husband, to his wife, who also works in a small business.

“A gentleman who has served our country in the Australian Defence Force, who has subsequently set up a small business in our state in the defence sector.

“He emailed his wife – it, I would have thought, is utterly orthodox.”

Malinauskas claimed the email had “borne no relationship to anything within government”.

“It was an email from one business owner to his wife talking about an entirely legitimate exercise,” he said.

“So, yes, I read the email and I encourage anybody else who’s got an interest in this matter to also read the email. I suspect they too will be readily underwhelmed as much as I have been by this particular revelation from the Opposition.”

Teague’s attempts to ask further questions about Citadel Secure were stymied by Speaker Dan Cregan and the government on the grounds that they pertained to party matters and not government business, thereby not complying with parliament’s standing orders.

Josh Teague

Josh Teague speaking in parliament on Thursday. Photo: SA Parliament

Teague was, however, allowed to ask the Premier whether Citadel Secure has ever received any government money. It comes after The Advertiser this week quoted a “party spokesperson” saying that Citadel “has not received a cent from the state government”.

Treasurer Stephen Mullighan, who answered the question instead of the Premier, said he would take the question on notice.

“I must admit I have not been made aware of any occasion that that company has received any government funding, whether it be in the last two years or whether it was in the preceding four years before those,” Mullighan said.

“But I am happy to take the question on notice to satisfy the inquiry.”

Mullighan also took on notice whether any ministers or staff have met with any of Citadel Secure’s clients, and whether those clients have received any government money.

The Treasurer did say that he has met James O’Hanlon and “found him to be unimpeachable”.

“I understand the line of questioning from those opposite. We’re in a by-election period and the Honourable Michelle Lensink used the cover of parliamentary privilege to level assertions,” Mullighan said.

“Rather than accuse directly… it’s instead to the husband… someone who has served in the Australian Defence Forces, six different deployments, including Rwanda and Afghanistan.

“That just shows the depth of the gutter that they are prepared to stoop into.

“Let me make it abundantly clear, Mr Speaker, if we want to have a full audit of lobbying activities… attached to members of parliament all over – we’re up for that challenge.”

James O’Hanlon could not be reached for comment.

South Australia’s lobbying laws are currently being reviewed by the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

Among the things under review are whether the definition of a lobbyist should be expanded or if ministerial diaries should be published as an additional layer of transparency.

The Dunstan by-election is on March 23.

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