Chief Minister Michael Gunner has been dodging media interviews on local radio stations despite feeling no pressure from his caucus colleagues, his deputy says, over his handling of the $12 million Darwin Turf Club grandstand grant.
Deputy Chief Minister Nicole Manison was left to defend Mr Gunner after he bailed from a scheduled interview on ABC radio Monday morning and indicated he was not available for the rest of the week.
It’s the second time Mr Gunner has cancelled with ABC since the release of the ICAC report into the grandstand grant which found “corruption, misconduct, breaches of public trust and mismanagement of public resources”.
Ms Manison said Mr Gunner is not being pressured by his caucus colleagues over his handling of the scandal, which she said was “a normal Cabinet process”
“None,” Ms Manison replied to a question about how much political pressure Mr Gunner was under following revelations from other ministers that he rushed the grant through Cabinet before it could be properly assessed.
“And again, I have to stress, this was the normal Cabinet process that was followed.”
However, the ICAC found that the grandstand grant process before it entered Cabinet for a funding decision was “deeply flawed and affected by donations”.
It was also discovered that the “ill-informed and spurious” grant application, that had been written the day before the June 2019 Cabinet meeting, had not been assessed by the Department of Trade, Business and Innovation before it was approved.
Manison claimed conflict of interest in grandstand decision, but approved loan guarantee for Turf Club in 2018
Ms Manison attempted again to distance herself from the ongoing scandal, telling ABC this morning that she had identified a conflict of interest due to her brother-in-law James Herraman being on the Turf Club board, despite holding meetings with Darwin Turf Club chairman and Labor Party donor Brett Dixon about the grandstand as early as 2018.
“So, I had a declared conflict of interest, my brother-in-law sat on the Darwin Turf Club board, and for the whole term of government I’ve had that declared, so it was not appropriate for me to be part of that decision,” Ms Manison said.
However, in July 2018 – a year before the $12 million grant was awarded – Ms Manison approved a $3.5 million loan guarantee as Treasurer for the Darwin Turf Club that was used to build the Silks Lounge.
She said in February 2019, that she had declared her conflict of interest, but remarkably still signed off on the loan guarantee for the club.
“Yes, as Treasurer I approved the extension of the existing guarantee, limited to $3.5 million, under s34 of the Financial Management Act, following advice from the Attorney-General,” Ms Manison told the ABC in 2019.
“As Treasurer I have a declared related party disclosure in relation to a close family member that is on the Board of the Turf Club.”
Ms Manison did not respond to the NT Independent’s questions, including why she abstained from voting on one matter concerning the Turf Club, but still approved the loan guarantee. She was also asked if she understood what a conflict of interest is, after declaring one but still signing the loan guarantee.
Gunner took the grant decision ‘out of certain people’s hands’: Manison’s brother-in-law told DTC board
The NT Independent previously revealed that Mr Herraman had told the Turf Club board that Mr Gunner had “found the solution” to get the $12 million approved by Cabinet and that the “smart move” took the decision “out of certain people’s hands”.
Ms Manison’s office did not say if that comment related to her involvement and the declared conflict of interest.
Opposition CLP Leader Lia Finocchiaro said Ms Manison was very much involved in the “dodgy” $12 million grandstand grant.
“As Treasurer, Nicole Manison had an obligation to demand that Treasury provide forensic analysis of the proposal prior to any consideration by cabinet,” she said.
“She had an obligation to stop the dodgy deal from happening. But she didn’t, and instead took the coward’s way out. Minister Manison tried to get the best of both worlds by not upsetting Michael Gunner, and not having to vote on a proposal she didn’t agree with.”
Ms Manison said she continues to support Mr Gunner as leader.
“Because I think he does a fantastic job,” she said.
Despite Mr Gunner dodging radio interviews, he did hold a press conference this morning about COVID-19, where he reportedly accused the Federal Government of secretly stockpiling vaccines at a national level without informing him.