‘That was not your money to spend’: Opposition grill Gunner on Labor election campaign rorts

by | Dec 1, 2021 | News, NT Politics, Special Investigation | 0 comments

Chief Minister Michael Gunner did not answer direct allegations made in Parliament that his brother-in-law and former deputy chief of staff approved the use of taxpayer money for Labor’s 2020 election campaign in breach of rules meant to prevent the misappropriation of public funds.

CLP Opposition Leader Lia Finocchiaro asked Mr Gunner twice about the brewing scandal, that saw his former chief of staff Ryan Neve approve $40,000 in taxpayer-funded flights for campaign purposes against established policies.

“You were so desperate to win the election you threw full regard for process fairness, and Territorians hard earned taxpayers’ dollars out the window – that was not your money to spend,” Ms Finocchiaro said during Question Time.

“Chief Minister, will you apologize to Territorians for squandering their money for your own political gain? And will your Labor Party pay back the money owed to Territory taxpayers?”

Mr Gunner did not deny the alleged improper conduct occurred, nor did he offer to pay the money back.

Instead, he suggested that his Labor government was re-elected at the last election because Territorians had rejected the CLP.

“I absolutely reject the accusation that if the CLP think that we won the last Territory election because of a bit of paper that my deputy chief of staff signed, then you have completely misinterpreted the last election,” he said.

He then spoke about his party’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, a favourite topic of Mr Gunner’s, suggesting that’s why they were re-elected and not addressing the breach of caretaker rules to prohibit taxpayer money being spent on party-political travel.

Mr Gunner earlier attempted to deflect a question about the taxpayer money being used on campaigning by suggesting he needed to travel around the NT, but did not address the breaches of caretaker rules.

An NT Independent investigation revealed on Monday that Mr Gunner’s brother-in-law Mr Neve approved the taxpayer funds for Mr Gunner to travel to remote communities in marginal seats during the 2020 election that Labor was hoping to win on the same day remote polling was occurring in those communities, in direct contravention of caretaker provisions established to prevent the misappropriation of public funds.

The documents were obtained by the NT Independent through Freedom of Information laws and also showed Mr Gunner and Mr Neve claimed the trips were “ministerial travel” despite no record of meetings taking place.

The approvals violate caretaker rules that stipulate all ministerial travel during an election must be approved by the department to avoid misuse of public funds.

On Tuesday, independent MLA Robyn Lambley called Mr Gunner’s actions in using taxpayer funds for campaign purposes a “disgusting, appalling abuse of power” and called for the matter to be investigated.

 

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