Parliament descends into farce again over opposition status

by | Mar 30, 2020 | News, NT Politics | 0 comments

Originally published March 24, 2020

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.

The push came on the day the Gunner Government had pledged to rush emergency legislation through Parliament in an effort to protect Territorians from the deadly coronavirus pandemic.

The Gunner Labor Government abstained from voting, with the vote ending in the CLP’s favour five-to-three to overthrow the Territory Alliance as Opposition and return Ms Finocchiaro to the role.

Lia Finocchiaro seized Opposition back from Territory Alliance in a move believed to be unprecedented in Australia.

As she brought the matter forward, she told Parliament that the party that officially holds Opposition was “unclear” and “therefore the office of the Opposition is vacant”.

The move to roll a sitting Opposition is believed to be unprecedented in Australia and negated previous legal advice Speaker Kezia Purick had disseminated that stated that the party with the most non-government seats is entitled to Opposition status.

MORE ON THE OPPOSITION FIGHT

CLP Opposition under threat with Lambley to join Territory Alliance

Speaker makes no statement on Opposition status

Territory Alliance assumed the role last week after independent MLA Robyn Lambley joined the party, giving them three seats over the CLP’s two.

No official word from either the Legislative Assembly or the Chief Minister was made public about Opposition status, however Terry Mills was referred to as “Opposition leader” during parliamentary debate earlier on Tuesday.

“It’s not that I’m a great supporter of the CLP … it’s just been done in an (improper) way.”

Member for Nhulunbuy Yingiya Mark Guyula was not present for the vote, having been granted leave earlier in the day.

Ms Lambley called the move to roll the Opposition “illegal” in Parliament.

It’s believed Speaker Kezia Purick voted in favour of the CLP, as well as fellow independents Gerry Wood and Scott McConnell.

“It is not fair or just or democratic to proceed with this motion because it is in direct conflict of that (previous legal) advice,” she said.

Ms Purick said the vote was “done according to standing and sessional orders”.

“If your party has concerns you could and can take it to the Supreme Court,” Ms Purick said.

Territory Alliance whip Jeff Collins asked how it was determined that the office of the leader of Opposition was vacant.

“It’s petulance of the highest degree,” he said. “It makes a mockery of this place and Westminister traditions.”

GERRY WOOD VOTES FOR AN OLD FOE

Long-serving independent MLA Gerry Wood backed the CLP, explaining that he did not care for how the Territory Alliance assumed the role of Opposition by having independent members join the party at this precarious time for the Territory.

“Many people who’ve spoken to me were not happy with what happened – they didn’t see this as the right time for the Opposition to change,” he said. “The Territory Alliance would have been better off to say whilst we have the numbers … we can form the Opposition (but not do it). It’s small beer when it comes to the matters before us.

“It’s not that I’m a great supporter of the CLP … it’s just been done in an (improper) way.”

“There were other reasons why you got together to do this when the real issue before us was coronavirus, so I’m telling you now that’s why I support this motion.”

STRANGE MESSAGES FROM THE HOUSE

In a letter last week, Clerk Michael Tatham told the Territory Alliance they would not be able to move into the fourth floor offices until mid-week.

After the party was rolled as Opposition on Tuesday night – the day before they were to occupy the physical offices – Mr Tatham sent an email to inform the party that it was a strange move to roll an Opposition on the floor of Parliament.

“It no doubt creates a precedent for this jurisdiction which might be of interest in future assemblies,” he wrote.

While the Gunner Government did not vote and attempted to wash its hands of the issue for weeks, it would be unusual for the Leader of Government business Natasha Fyles to have not been made aware of a vote being arranged, political experts told the NT Independent.

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