Chief Minister Michael Gunner says a “server fault” was to blame for his office not receiving a crucial email from the NT Independent last Monday that revealed explicit messages between ousted MLA Mark Turner, a fifth floor staffer and a woman with whom both men had carried out extra-marital affairs.
That email contained quoted text messages referencing drug use by the woman, as well as graphic sexual comments and references to pictures exchanged between the staffer and woman – among other matters. It also showed Mr Turner was aware of the woman’s cocaine use.
Mr Gunner issued a statement on Saturday that claimed his office was not aware of the messages until late on Wednesday, “shortly before” Mr Turner admitted his affair on the floor of Parliament.
Mr Gunner said on Sunday and again this morning that the “server fault” meant his office did not receive the NT Independent email until Tuesday at noon, despite it being sent at 3:36 pm on Monday, and that it did not contain “screen shots” of the messages.
The NT Independent received no response to the questions, despite offering to extend the deadline should his office had wished to verify the veracity of the messages or request full copies.
Mr Gunner told Mix 104.9 this morning that his chief of staff Emily Beresford-Cane and deputy chief of staff Chris Grace questioned the men about the nature of the text messages after his office finally received the NT Independent’s email, but were told the messages were untrue.
“I was relying on honesty here really, and we had no access to the text messages,” Mr Gunner said. “I had no ability to go look at primary source materials.”
It remains unclear why he or his staff didn’t ask Mr Turner, the staffer or the NT Independent for copies of the messages.
Mr Gunner said his office obtained the messages between Mr Turner and his lover yesterday and forwarded them on to the Office of the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption.
“Upon seeing those, you deemed them so serious that they need to be passed on to the ICAC, so why were they not deemed so serious a week ago,” Mix 104.9 host Katie Woolf asked Mr Gunner.
“They weren’t attached,” Mr Gunner said. “They came in the body of an email in quotation marks, alleged to be the text messages and they were denied.
“Let’s be clear, the Member for Blain comes across very credibly and he’s an ex-police officer and he was saying ‘no, those issues are not true’.”
Despite becoming aware of the messages by the NT Independent on either Monday or Tuesday, Mr Gunner said he personally worked with Mr Turner to draft the statement he delivered to Parliament on Wednesday night that said the relationship Mr Turner had with the woman was a “friendship” that turned intimate.
Mr Turner was sacked from the Labor caucus on Thursday for what Mr Gunner deemed misleading conduct, after the NT Independent revealed he had attempted to coax his lover to issue a false statement denying their affair after she had already made it public.
In the messages, Mr Turner is asked if he needed the statement by the woman in time for Question Time in Parliament last Wednesday to which he responded with, “Maybe I’ll check”.
Mr Gunner denied he or his staff offered any advice to Mr Turner to solicit the false statement, and only worked with Mr Turner to deny any illegal activity had occurred in his speech to Parliament. He added that Mr Turner had changed the speech to remove “some very important denials”.
The email about Mr Turner attempting to solicit the false statement from the woman was sent to communications director Maria Billias on Thursday morning – which again quoted text messages to Mr Gunner’s office and did not contain “screen shots” – and appears to have been received with no server issues.
The staffer resigned Thursday over his involvement in the sex scandal and for failing to be upfront about the messages, Mr Gunner said.