This is the first instalment of the NT Independent’s 2020 Year in Review, in which we reflect on the stories that made news this year, and in a lot of cases, stories that would never have come to light had the NT Independent not existed.
In this foul year of our lord 2020, that will be remembered for the great pandemic, who could forget how it affected the NT, with Parliament descending into chaos in March, to allegations of cooked books to deceive voters later becoming true, to a Speaker with a massive taxpayer-funded booze bill forced to resign in disgrace for other reasons, to a Senator caught up in an alleged violent altercation with a staffer, to the Chief Minister fleeing independent media over fears of being questioned, to another Minister’s rubbish strewn around a car park with no consequences, to a nightclub proposal for East Point, to departmental fraud allegations staying hidden, to secret China agreements being exposed.
And that was only between the end of March and June. This is the first three-month instalment of the NT Independent’s 2020 Year in Review.
Parliament descends into farce again over opposition status
The Country Liberal Party has regained Opposition status with a surprise ambush on the newly installed Territory Alliance on the floor of Parliament Tuesday night.
In remarkable scenes, former Opposition leader Lia Finocchiaro, who last week derided the new party for being self-absorbed and not focused on Territorians, caught them off guard by putting the matter of Opposition status to a vote on the floor, with suspicions the whole affair was a deal with the government.
Costs of tradie scheme blow out amid ongoing changes to rules, questions of fraud
The Gunner Government’s ever-expanding Home Improvement Scheme will reportedly now balloon to more than $100 million, raising questions over what fraud prevention controls are in place.
Reports over the weekend indicated that some companies were offering quotes over the phone and others were already price-gouging by doubling costs.
Turf Club grandstand project ‘unlikely’ to increase race-day attendance: internal report
The Darwin Turf Club’s controversial $12 million taxpayer-funded grandstand project was “unlikely” to increase visitors to the Northern Territory, according to an internal planning document obtained by the NT Independent.
The report, which was dated June 2019, contradicts public comments made by government officials and the club’s CEO Brad Morgan, who told a local radio station yesterday that while the structure won’t be enjoyed by spectators this year due to COVID-19 restrictions, “the response from overseas and interstate was phenomenal”.
Fears the Territory is ‘trading insolvent’ as Gunner rejects calls to open the books
Pressure continues to mount on the Gunner Government to provide an honest financial snapshot of the Territory’s books before Territorians head to the polls in August, with one politician suggesting the lack of budget figures may be an indicator the Territory is officially bankrupt.
The calls for increased transparency come in the wake of distressing national economic data that showed the Territory economy was already on a fast decline before the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, with key economic indicators tumbling rapidly.
Should the CDU city campus be built?
OPINION: The very large, and expensive Charles Darwin University Darwin CBD campus is too risky and the institution should be focusing on its wide-ranging educational and skills development responsibilities to Territory residents, former Professor of Governance and Head of the Schools of Law and Business at CDU, Don Fuller argues.
READ full story here: https://ntindependent.com.au/should-the-cdu-city-campus-be-built/
‘All of a sudden I was getting hit with $20,000 bills’: daughter’s COVID-19 aged care drama
A Territory woman has spoken about being chased by debt collectors representing an aged care facility housing her parents during the coronavirus pandemic, while being denied access to organise their accounts by the very same facility.
Jo Hansen’s parents, Dennis and Sue Hansen, are residents of aged care facility Regis Tiwi, which was placed into lockdown by COVID-19 in early March.
‘How do I undersell this?’: Gunner says nothing to see with internal office review he threw away
Chief Minister Michael Gunner says he threw out an internal review he had commissioned into how his office was functioning prior to the dismissal of his high-profile chief of staff last year because “it wasn’t that important”.
Mr Gunner allegedly paid Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews’ chief of staff Lissie Ratcliff out of his own pocket to do a review of his office a year out from the election.
‘Not in the public interest’: Department refuses release of corruption report; Minister Eva Lawler stays silent
The findings of an investigation into corruption allegations in the Department of Infrastructure’s Katherine office will remain secret for now, after the NT Independent’s request to publicly release the document was knocked back.
The 474-page report was prepared by an outside agency last year, following credible allegations of improper procurement processes, tender manipulation and failure to disclose conflicts of interest in awarding contracts.
Gunner faces blowback over tradie scheme as ministerial car blocked in radio station carpark
Chief Minister Michael Gunner had his chauffeured government car blocked from leaving the carpark of a local radio station Thursday morning by a frustrated business owner facing financial collapse over the slow rollout of the Home Improvement Scheme.
Grant Miller told the NT Independent he had to take the unusual measure after repeated calls and emails to government officials in the Department of Business went unanswered.
Tourism Minister’s rubbish and documents discovered in fast-food carpark, then some of it vanishes
Tourism Minister Lauren Moss’s dirty rubbish and office documents have been strewn around a Hungry Jack’s carpark for anyone to see.
Several garbage bags appeared in the Casuarina Hungry Jack’s carpark on Thursday, according to a citizen who photographed the rubbish heap, containing documents and other information connected to Ms Moss. Anything linked to Ms Moss was later cleaned up, with the rest of the trash left.
Dry Throb: New Throb nightclub to be built at East Point Reserve
The owners of popular Darwin nightclub Throb are set to build a new entertainment venue at East Point Reserve.
The NT Independent can reveal the first details of the nightclub, which is proposed to be built near Dudley Point and is set to be called “Throb on Point”.
Gunner Government hires national law firm to threaten NT Independent with legal action over brolga image, includes gag order
The Gunner Government is using taxpayer funds to hire a national law firm to threaten legal action against the NT Independent for using the common NT brolga logo and attempted to implement a gag order to restrict the online newspaper’s right to report on one of its department’s actions.
Adelaide-based lawyers representing Tourism NT sent a legal letter ostensibly threatening to take the NT Independent to court over the use of the common Tourism NT image of a brolga in the sun that appeared in a banner ad on the Independent’s website last month promoting the “truth”.
Whistleblowers’ identities no longer safe in NT; ICAC remains silent on Supreme Court ruling to name informant
An NT Supreme Court decision to force the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption to reveal a whistleblower’s identity will have a “chilling effect” on future disclosers looking to expose corruption, a leading national anti-corruption expert says.
Justice Stephen Southwood ruled earlier this month that a whistleblower who had submitted evidence relating to an alleged historical rape in the NT Police Force should be named and their report handed over to the accused’s counsel.
Conveyancer allegedly practised unlicensed for five months, NT Government stays silent
The Department of the Attorney-General and Justice has refused to answer questions over allegations a conveyancer continued to practice unlicensed in the Territory for more than five months.
Aquarius Conveyancing owner Gabrielle Vita’s licence expired on December 1, 2019, however the NT Independent understands she continued to practice unlicensed until at least May 5, 2020, while marketing herself as still being licensed.
Who has won the most contracts from the NT Government since 2013
The NT Independent published a list of the top 200 money earners from the NT Government since 2013. Now we look at what companies have won the most government contracts, with two NT firms making the top five, with one being the highest money earner on the list.
GHD was awarded 138 contracts, and it was the only company to be awarded more than 100 contracts.
NT Home Improvement Scheme fraud concerns raised as Auditor General confirms audit of COVID-19 stimulus
The Department of Business would have trouble explaining its actions if the Auditor General were to scrutinise its fast-track funding approvals for the much-maligned Home Improvement Scheme, a highly-placed source with knowledge of the program has told the NT Independent.
The revelation comes as NT Auditor General Julie Crisp confirmed she will be auditing all of the Gunner Government’s recently announced COVID-19 stimulus programs, estimated at more than $230 million.
Business case never made for NT Government’s ‘critical’ $100m State Square redevelopment project
The Gunner Government has only now started work on developing a business case for its flagship State Square redevelopment project – three years after first announcing it and more than a year after commencing works – the NT Independent can reveal.
Government documents show the contract to produce the business case for the $100 million project was awarded to Deloitte last week for $265,000 through a private select process rather than through a public process.
‘This is about the greatness’: Infrastructure Minister Eva Lawler explains lack of business case for State Square redevelopment
The Gunner Government has had difficulty explaining why it spent tens of millions of taxpayer dollars on the State Square redevelopment project before a proper business case was in place, with Infrastructure Minister Eva Lawler suggesting the reason was “broader than just the dollars”.
The NT Independent revealed on Thursday the government had only awarded a tender to Deloitte to develop a business case for its $100 million State Square redevelopment project last week, three years after first pledging the project and more than a year after spending tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to progress works on the site.
‘Territorians should be concerned’: Michael Gunner’s secret China deal called into question
Chief Minister Michael Gunner secretly signed an agreement with Chinese officials while on a trade mission to China late last year that his office has refused to explain, the NT Independent can reveal.
Photos obtained by the NT Independent taken at the “Reaching South” event in Shenzhen last October, show Mr Gunner signed a document with an unidentified Chinese official in a ceremony that until now was never disclosed.
‘A very positive investment for the future of our country’: Gunner on Darwin Port deal to Chinese company
Chief Minister Michael Gunner has come under scrutiny over his connections to China, as old comments resurface about the 99-year lease of the Darwin Port and his involvement with the sale.
An NT Independent investigation revealed Mr Gunner secretly signed an agreement with Chinese officials while on a trade mission to Shenzhen last October that his office has refused to explain.
Foreign deals require ‘full disclosure to the people’: Gunner called on to publicly explain China agreements
Opposition and crossbench MLAs have called on Chief Minister Michael Gunner to fully and publicly disclose the nature of his dealings with China in Parliament, after the NT Independent revealed he signed a secret agreement with unknown Chinese officials while on an official taxpayer-funded trip to Shenzhen last October.
Mr Gunner’s office continued to refuse to disclose the nature of that agreement on Wednesday, as well as the extent of Mr Gunner’s potential involvement with a Chinese Communist Party-aligned organisation called the Shenzhen Australia Association.
‘A new low for democracy’: Gunner changes venue to avoid questions from the NT Independent
The Gunner Government moved a press conference at the last minute Thursday morning, after learning the NT Independent’s journalists would attempt to ask questions of the Chief Minister.
The change of venue came after a media officer identified Independent editor Christopher Walsh shortly before the arranged time at Stokes Hill Wharf.
Gunner’s cowardly act to avoid scrutiny over China deals unbecoming of a Chief Minister
EDITORIAL: Chief Minister Michael Gunner’s duck and run when confronted by this newspaper yesterday shows he is unable to weather the accountability that comes with being in office.
The NT Independent has run investigative articles this week about Mr Gunner’s secret deals in China that the government continue to refuse to explain.
Social distancing fines quietly scrapped in NT with no public announcement
The NT Government has seemingly revoked fines for not adhering to the 1.5 metre social distancing rule late on Thursday afternoon, in a directive that came with no public announcement.
The change was made shortly before a mass gathering in Darwin for the Black Lives Matter protest, although government officials did not make the public aware and continued to warn of the need to “abide by public health principles”.
Inside the CLP Sam McMahon investigation: Senator sharing house with chief of staff, party raised domestic violence concerns, messages show
Senior Country Liberal Party management members are investigating the alleged assault of Senator Sam McMahon as domestic violence and are also looking into who in the party knew about it and whether it was reported to police, internal party messages reveal.
The party raised concerns internally about Ms McMahon sharing a house with her chief of staff Jason Riley and another man, the messages show.
‘Completely shonky’: Jaytex accused of breaching guidelines over controversial grandstand
The company responsible for building the Darwin Turf Club’s controversial $12 million taxpayer-funded grandstand is being investigated for breaching Environment Protection Agency guidelines during the construction of the project.
Construction company Jaytex, along with the Turf Club itself, have been accused by a group of Fannie Bay residents of disregarding assurances made to the EPA and Development Consent Authority over several aspects during the grandstand’s construction phase.
‘Restock Madam Speaker’s suite’: Speaker Kezia Purick’s exclusive private dinner parties and $1200 booze runs at taxpayer expense revealed
Speaker Kezia Purick’s office spent tens of thousands of taxpayers’ money on booze over the last three years, including on one $1200 bottle shop run, as well as a further $100,000 on hosting exclusive events and dinner parties for herself and preferred social groups, internal documents obtained by the NT Independent reveal.
The documents also show purchases of alcohol through retail outlets were made with little oversight or consideration to costs.
‘Self-indulgent expenditure of taxpayer funds’: Speaker Kezia Purick slammed for massive booze bill that lacked proper scrutiny
Speaker Kezia Purick’s taxpayer-funded booze bill is a “disgrace” and a “self-indulgent” example of taking advantage of entitlements with lax oversight processes, crossbench Members of Parliament say.
The NT Independent revealed yesterday that Ms Purick’s office spent tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars on alcohol over this term of government, including $1200 on a single grog run just before Christmas last year when no official parliamentary business was on, that included eight bottles of high-end champagne and 40 bottles of Boatshed Bay wine.
‘Deny, deny, deny’: Texts show Kezia Purick lied to public, worked with unnamed MLA in secret plot
Speaker Kezia Purick was working with at least one other unnamed Member of Parliament on her plot to thwart a third political party from entering the NT political landscape, the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption’s report into her conduct shows.
The revelations have cast a shadow of suspicion over NT Parliament House after the report was tabled Tuesday morning, with demands made for the unnamed MLA to identify themselves.
NT Government department attempted to hide $650,000 unpaid debt, audit finds
An unidentified NT Government department violated national accounting standards by attempting to hide a $650,000 unpaid loan owed by an unnamed Territory council, the Auditor General has found.
According to the latest AG report, the department gave an advance of $1 million to a council in 2008, with the expectation it would be paid back. Five years later, in the 2013/14 financial year, the council paid back $333,000 of the advance with the expectation the rest would be paid back over the next two years. But that didn’t happen.