The Northern Territory’s Independent Commissioner Against Corruption will be allocated more money to clean up corruption in the NT and the Territory’s shameful Freedom of Information (FOI) processes will be overhauled under a Territory Alliance government, the party has pledged.
TA leader Terry Mills has also committed to reforming whistleblower protection laws to better protect public servants who come forward with allegations of corruption, he told the NT Independent in a statement.
“ICAC is critical to fighting government corruption in the NT but its effectiveness has been undermined by a lack of funding from the Gunner Government,” Mr Mills said.
“Territory Alliance will increase ICAC’s funding by $1 million (on top of the roughly $3 million it currently receives) immediately to enable greater investigation of allegations of corrupt behaviour.
“The looming economic crisis created by the coronavirus pandemic only increases the likelihood of corrupt practices and the need for an effective, vigilant ICAC.”
The Northern Territory is widely regarded as the country’s worst performer in returning FOI applications, with nearly one in four applications being rejected in 2018. That’s a rate seven times higher than Victoria and eight times higher than WA.
“The NT Government leads the nation in secrecy,” Mr Mills said.
“FOI is a cornerstone of open, accountable government and there are no excuses to deny the public the right to access government information.”
The campaign pledge comes after FOI applications by the NT Independent into Chief Minister Michael Gunner’s China dealings were stalled until election day.
In June, the NT Government quietly awarded a low-value tender to review FOI processes to an interstate company called Information Consultants Pty Ltd valued at $3795, that was not publicly announced. It was unclear what the company was looking at for so low a cost.
Whistleblower reforms sorely needed: Mills
Mr Mills said the Territory’s whistleblower protection laws will also be reviewed in an effort to better protect public servants coming forward with information.
Earlier this year, the NT Supreme Court ruled that the ICAC must reveal a whistleblower’s identity, despite concerns from leading corruption watchdogs of the “chilling effect” the ruling would have on future disclosers looking to expose corruption.
The matter was seen as a unique circumstance relating to one ongoing trial into rape allegations in the NT Police force, but the decision raised alarm bells at the time.
“Protecting public service whistleblowers from retribution for reporting suspect behaviour to the ICAC is also essential to the effective operation of the commission,” Mr Mills said.
Michael Gunner was elected in 2016 on a platform of “restoring integrity” to government, but over the last four years has failed to deliver on a number of reform pledges, including public reporting of MLA travel expenses.
“These rules should be clear and transparent and the travel needs to be open to scrutiny by members of the public both before and after it is undertaken,” Mr Gunner wrote in 2016.
The promised reforms did not happen and the Gunner Government instead moved to scrap reporting MLA travel expenses.
“Territorians are sick to death of politicians treating taxpayers’ money as their own,” Mr Mills said, adding that TA will also scrap boozy ministerial lunches.
“With thousands of jobs already having disappeared it’s obscene that high income earners expect the taxpayer to foot the bill for their alcohol.
“Proactive disclosure of credit card expenditure, overseas travel, interstate travel and mobile phone costs will be required on a monthly basis in an important initiative to begin restoring public trust in their elected representatives.
“Taxpayers have the right to know exactly how their money is being spent and the requirement to regularly disclose expenditure online will act as a powerful restraint on the abuse of government money.”