Chief Minister Michael Gunner has lashed out at the police union while defending Police Commissioner Jamie Chalker in a radio interview, labeling anyone who thinks they interfered in the Zach Rolfe investigation “conspiracy nuts”.
Mr Gunner appeared by phone on Mix 104.9 to reject calls for an independent investigation into the quick decision to charge Constable Rolfe with murder over the 2019 shooting death of Kumanjayi Walker, who was found not guilty last week in the Supreme Court.
He also backed Mr Chalker in the interview, saying he was an “absolute straight shooter” who had his full confidence despite growing calls for him to resign over his handling of the Rolfe matter by the public, rank-and-file officers and Constable Rolfe’s father, who accused Mr Chalker of acting corruptly by hiding a report from the defence team and the prosecutor during the committal hearing.
Mr Gunner said he did not hear Mr Chalker’s bizarre press conference hours after Constable Rolfe was found not guilty last Friday, in which Mr Chalker refused to take questions or mention Constable Rolfe, Kumanjayi Walker, Yuendumu, the murder charge or even the Supreme Court murder trial.
“He has my full support,” Mr Gunner said.
“Jamie Chalker is an absolute straight shooter. Going 59 in a 60 zone is too fast for Jamie. I’ve got complete confidence in the police commissioner. I work very closely with him on a number of things. But particularly COVID. I think he’s an outstanding police commissioner.”
Mr Gunner attacked the NT Police Association for what he called a “two-year campaign of deliberate misinformation” by constantly referring to his comments made in Yuendumu days after the shooting that “consequences will flow”.
He said he was trying to deal with community unrest in Yuendumu at the time and said the comments related to a coronial investigation into Mr Walker’s death.
“My comments were deliberately taken out of context which I think was irresponsible and deliberate,” he said.
“I was clearly talking about the coronial investigation of which will now commence. I still expect there to be consequences, recommendations, findings – pick your word – that will flow as a result of that.”
Mr Gunner added that he had “absolutely no involvement in the charges” when asked if he had been involved in any meetings with police between the shooting and the charges being laid against Constable Rolfe.
“I had no involvement in [the decision to charge], I never have,” Mr Gunner said.
“It’s been unfortunate that the police union has insinuated that for a couple of years and deliberately and irresponsibly taking my quotes out of context.”
Asked again if he was involved in meetings with police before the charges, Mr Gunner said “I meet with police regularly, but nothing to do with the charging process”.
Mr Gunner also rejected the Opposition’s and NTPA’s calls for an independent inquiry into allegations of political interference into how the decision to charge was made.
“You’re asking if I’m a conspiracy nut and no I’m not,” he said on radio.
Presenter Katie Woolf said that was a “ridiculous statement to make” given that many in the community are calling for an inquiry.
“People are out there saying [this] right now, if you want to call them conspiracy nuts, it’s a bit disrespectful to them, if I’m honest,” she said.
“Okay,” Mr Gunner replied.
NTPA president Paul McCue, who was interviewed directly after Mr Gunner, said the Chief Minister’s comments were “tone-deaf”.
“I don’t know in all honesty if I’ve ever heard a more tone-deaf interview,” he said.
‘Conspiracy nut’ comments insulting to police officers and every Territorian: CLP
Opposition CLP Leader Lia Finocchiaro picked up on Mr Gunner’s comments that he met with police ahead of the charges being laid against Constable Rolfe.
“There are many questions Territorians need answers to, and the four day period between the shooting, and the charging of Constable Rolfe needs to be forensically examined by an independent inquiry,” she said.
“The Chief Minister said he travelled to Yuendumu to address issues relating to the evacuation of health staff, so why did he take Police Minister, Nicole Manison, and not the Health Minister, Natasha Fyles with him?”
Ms Finocchiaro added that calling people who want an inquiry into the charges “conspiracy nuts” was “insulting to every single police officer, the Rolfe family, the family of the deceased and every Territorian who wants answers about this tragic ordeal”.