Chief Minister Michael Gunner’s communications director Maria Billias’s handling of an email from the NT Independent outlining allegations and describing explicit messages between Mark Turner, senior fifth floor adviser Kent Rowe and their mistress is being investigated by the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption, the NT Independent can reveal.
An unnamed information officer in the Chief Minister’s Office sent the NT Independent a letter this morning refusing a Freedom of Information application that sought how the email was handled internally, when it was received, who it was forwarded to and all internal communications around the email, citing the ICAC’s ongoing investigation.
Mr Gunner claimed last month that a “server fault” affected the delivery of the email, which was sent to Ms Billias, Mr Turner and Mr Rowe on Monday February 15, at 3:36pm, that Mr Gunner claimed they did not receive until sometime on Tuesday February 16.
Mr Gunner continued to deny the existence of any evidence that Mr Turner and Mr Rowe acted inappropriately during parliamentary sittings on February 16, after the email had been sent that showed Mr Turner was aware of the woman’s cocaine use, as well as messages involving graphic sexual comments and lewd pictures sent by Mr Rowe to the woman, as well as discussions of drug use, among other matters.
Mr Gunner’s office said the email – who it was forwarded to and when – was now exempt from being released “on the basis that disclosure of the requested information would prejudice the investigation of a breach or possible breach of the law”.
“It is not in the public interest to disclose information that would prejudice any investigation conducted by the ICAC,” the letter stated.
Most of the contents of the email have been reported by the NT Independent and the NT News last month, but it remains unclear what Ms Billias and Mr Gunner’s team did after receiving the email and who was involved in working with Mr Turner to mitigate the political damage.
The NT Independent previously reported that Mr Turner appeared to be working with someone in government to convince the woman at the centre of the scandal to recant her story about their affair and lie about it, after she publicly disclosed it during an ABC Radio interview.
Other text message later revealed by the NT Independent showed on February 10 – two days after Mr Gunner claimed he was aware of the matter – Mr Turner had sought advice from multiple unnamed people about how to handle the unfolding scandal, which seemed to contradict Mr Gunner’s claims that his staff did not attempt a cover-up.
Mr Gunner eventually sent the messages from Mr Turner to the ICAC after kicking him out of caucus but at no time sought those messages from the NT Independent after being made aware of them.
Last week in Parliament, Mr Gunner tabled a letter from Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Ken Fleming QC that informed him of the investigation into Mr Turner and seeking a waiver of parliamentary privilege to search Mr Turner’s three mobile phones and a laptop.
That motion was approved by Parliament, meaning ICAC investigators will be permitted to search Mr Turner’s devices. It is unclear if any staffers’ devices will also be searched as part of the investigation.
Ms Billias did not respond to a request for comment.