Ex-Labor SA MP in court on blackmail charge
A former South Australian Labor MP and her husband have appeared in court, charged with trying to blackmail state Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas.
Annabel Digance, 63, and her husband Greg Digance, 60, were arrested on Wednesday at their Strathalbyn home, south of Adelaide, and came before Adelaide Magistrates Court.
They were released on bail with Magistrate John Wells accepting that special circumstances existed, although those circumstances were not disclosed.
Their bail conditions include that they have no contact with Mr Malinauskas, surrender their passports and that they each lodge a $5000 surety with the court in cash.
Mr Wells cautioned them both about complying with their bail conditions.
"If you disobey any of those conditions, you run the risk of being arrested and being remanded in custody."
Details of the allegations against Ms Digance and her husband were not disclosed in court but police said it would be alleged the accused were involved in a common enterprise to obtain a personal gain by threatening to make allegations of alleged misconduct by Mr Malinauskas.
It was understood that benefit involved Ms Digance being placed in a winnable spot on the Legislative Council ticket or being preselected for a safe Labor seat prior to the next state election in March 2022.
Labor has preselected Mr Reggie Martin, a former state secretary of the party, for the Legislative Council. Mr Martin was at the centre of a controversy surrounding an attack flyer against Ms Digance's former opponent, Carolyn Habib (now her successor as the member for Elder, Carolyn Power).
South Australia police said about the arrest in a statement:
"It is important to be clear that the allegations did not relate to any form of criminal behaviour by Mr Malinauskas.
"He is not being investigated by SAPOL for any criminal offence and is not suspected of any criminal offence.
"Mr Malinauskas is simply the victim of an alleged blackmail and the details of the allegation will be presented and tested through the prosecution and judicial process."
The opposition leader first approached the police in February last year.
Mr Malinauskas said he never thought he would find himself involved in such circumstances and reported the matter because it was the "right thing to do":
"It is absolutely critical that every South Australian can have confidence in the integrity of the democratic process.
"That they can have confidence that their members of parliament fulfil their very clear obligations under the law to not look the other way when someone does the wrong thing, to not sweep matters under the carpet."
Mr Malinauskas said he was not in a position to comment on the particulars of the alleged offences but said he witnessed behaviour that he regarded as inappropriate and potentially unlawful.
"I had no choice but to report the conduct that I bore witness to and South Australian police have conducted an investigation accordingly."
Ms Digance previously served in the parliament as the member for Elder from 2014 to 2018, when she lost her seat to the Liberals.
Both her and her husband were ordered to return to court in June.
Before the hearing, Attorney-General Vickie Chapman said the blackmail allegations were "disturbing matters".
But she said the parliament would press on with a select committee inquiry into Labor's conduct during the 2014 election campaign which was established after allegations of bullying, harassment and intimidation within the party.
Ms Digance was among those to raise such issues.
Ms Chapman said the matters to be considered by the committee were separate from those before the court, telling reporters:
"They are, to be clear, independent to what appears to be recent conduct that is alleged in the current blackmail charges against Greg and Annabel Digance."
Ms Chapman said it would be a matter for Ms Digance as to whether she chose to give evidence before the select committee.
Shadow Minister and the ALP's longest-serving state MP, Tom Koutsantonis said Ms Chapman had shown a lack of judgment, tweeting:
"Ms Chapman forced the establishment of a Parliamentary Investigation on the basis of Digance’s claims & now her star witness has been arrested & charged. The AG has serious questions to answer about her judgement & actions."
-- with AAP