One of the Gunner Government’s first orders of business after being sworn in for its second term today will be to scrap the scrutiny body that provided oversight of its proposed laws, which critics say will reduce government transparency.
The NT Independent understands the government will this week cut the social policy scrutiny committee, which it billed in 2016 as being crucial to restoring trust in government.
At the time of forming a select committee to “investigate parliamentary reform” that included establishing the policy scrutiny committee, Leader of Government Business Natasha Fyles said oversight of legislation before it was passed was critical in earning the public’s trust.
“These changes have been developed with a view to placing more scrutiny on government, and to insuring open and transparent government,” Ms Fyles said in a 2016 press release.
“The previous [CLP] government would routinely rush legislation through on urgency and failed to consult with the community and with the Parliament on their bills.
“Territorians need to have trust and confidence in their Parliament, these changes will go a long way to providing that trust.”
Territory Alliance MLA Robyn Lambley, who sat on the Labor-struck committee that sought to “open Parliament to the people” said the policy scrutiny committee was “a credit to the Gunner Government” and had positively changed the way legislation was passed by involving Members of all political stripes an opportunity to review the laws and provide comment before they were rammed through Parliament.
“Their decision to scrap this very positive and profound advancement in the functioning of the NT Parliament is a tragedy,” she said. “Presumably we are to return to a system that the Gunner Government itself identified as insufficient and seriously lacking in 2016.
“Running away from scrutiny is a sure sign of arrogance or a fear of being found out how incompetent they really are.
“This is a big, big backwards step for democracy in the NT.”
The only other state or territory with a unicameral system – without an Upper House – which means there is no secondary oversight of legislation before the Lower House implements it, is Queensland.
Providing that secondary oversight of proposed legislation was billed as a positive for the Territory.
Despite criticising the previous CLP government for ramming legislation through without consulting the public, the Gunner Government ignored its own scrutiny committee at times over the last term of government, including forging ahead with its unpopular pet rental laws that the committee had determined were ill-informed.
Chief Minister Michael Gunner said in his 2016 “Restoring Integrity to Government” manifesto that: “Scrutiny, accountability and transparency is a crucial feature of a healthy democratic society, it protects against corruption and wrongdoing and produces better decision making and greater benefits to the community.”
Questions to Ms Fyles about why the scrutiny committee will be disbanded went unanswered.