The Gunner Government used its majority Tuesday to firstly kill the referral of a Labor staff member to the Parliament’s disciplinary committee and then to reduce the number of non-government members scrutinising its spending, all while fighting off continued allegations it covered up a sex and drugs scandal.
In a remarkable day of sittings, CLP Member for Braitling Josh Burgoyne accused a Labor staffer who works for Attorney-General Selena Uibo of threatening him outside Parliament House last Thursday night.
Mr Burgoyne said the staffer told him to “watch what you say” among other strong language, including vulgarities, as he left Parliament last week.
The CLP Opposition called for the matter to be referred to the Privileges Committee for disciplinary action under laws forbidding interfering with a sitting member’s duties, but the government shut that down and said the staffer had been dealt with internally.
Ms Uibo, who is the first law officer of the Northern Territory, told Parliament the staffer had been issued a “formal warning” over the matter and that there was no further action required because the government considered the matter did not fall into the remit of the committee.
“I reassure the House that my staff member’s conduct was out of character and in no way reflects my values, the values of our Labor government, or my ministerial office …” Ms Uibo said.
The bizarre incident comes as Labor’s “values” were repeatedly under fire throughout the day, including questions about Chief Minister Michael Gunner’s handling of the drugs and sex scandal that saw one of his most senior advisers, close friend and Labor Party heavyweight Kent Rowe forced to resign over his involvement.
Independent Member for Araluen Robyn Lambley – who was a member of the previous scandal-plagued Adam Giles-led CLP government – criticised the Gunner Government for its similarities to that dark time in NT politics and failing to investigate its own members after allegations were raised.
“The cover-up has been worse than the crime,” Ms Lambley said.
“We’ve seen a distinct lack of leadership throughout the last eight days. There’s not been any willingness to investigate. What the Chief Minister should have done from the outset was call for an investigation (into the sex and drugs scandal). You know, maybe it wouldn’t have been quite as bad as what it’s become.
“The collusion within the Labor ranks around covering it up and trying to put it back onto the Opposition Leader has been quite shameful.
“Territorians are watching this, they’re not stupid.”
The Gunner Government later moved a surprise motion to cut the number of Opposition and independent MLAs on the Public Accounts Committee that provides oversight of governmental spending from three to two – while maintaining three government members.
The move to cut government spending scrutiny follows the Gunner Government’s first order of business after being re-elected last year to scrap the social policy scrutiny committee that provided the public a voice on proposed laws.
Opposition CLP Leader Lia Finocchiaro called the days events further proof of a “toxic culture of cover-ups” in the Chief Minister’s office.
“The Gunner Government is in freefall and today’s events sum up the internal chaos and dysfunction, now bleeding out into the operation of Parliament,” she said.