A toxic workplace specialist was hired by the Gunner Government to investigate ministerial offices on the fifth floor of Parliament in late 2019 – less than six months after a separate report into the management of the Chief Minister’s own office was binned – and while allegations of illicit drug use amongst staffers was known, the NT Independent can reveal.
The toxic workplace investigation was conducted by Mr Gunner’s mate Mark Hough, a former Martin Labor Government staffer who worked with Mr Gunner in the early 2000s, and the current director of Darwin consulting company Managing Matters.
Mr Gunner admitted last month that he was aware of allegations of illicit drug use on the fifth floor while Chief Minister, but said he was never provided “any information” to substantiate the claims.
It remains unclear whether Mr Hough was tasked with investigating those allegations that became public following the sex scandal that saw Blain MLA Mark Turner booted from caucus and Labor heavyweight Kent Rowe forced to resign from his senior fifth floor job for allegedly failing to tell the truth about their involvement in extra-marital affairs with the same woman.
Mr Gunner has since been forced to defend his team’s integrity and values.
Mr Hough’s website bills him as having gained “valuable insights” while navigating through “large bureaucratic networks”.
“Mark has learnt to dig below the surface to identify the real reasons for toxic cultures and underperformance, and uses evidence-based learning to identify where the solutions might be …” his website bio stated.
“Searching for the lack of clarity, lack of communication or lack of commitment that’s holding back performance.”
A photo of Mr Hough on his website shows him sitting at a wooden table on a fifth floor balcony overlooking Government House.
Mr Hough commenced work on the fifth floor in late 2019, which included interviews with ministerial staffers, but his findings have not been made public and it remains unclear who precisely commissioned Mr Hough and whether taxpayers footed the bill.
Mr Hough did not respond to questions sent by the NT Independent, claiming in an emailed statement that he works for a “range of clients”.
“The nature and content of that work remains private and confidential between Managing Matters and its clients,” he wrote.
‘I throw stuff out all the time’: Gunner binned report into management of his office, claiming he had paid for it himself and it was of no interest
In July 2019 – five months before Mr Hough’s review – Mr Gunner engaged the services of Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews’s chief of staff Lissie Ratcliff to undertake a review into how his office was functioning. It precipitated the sacking of then chief of staff Alf Leonardi and other senior advisers.
A Freedom of Information application by the ABC ultimately uncovered that Mr Gunner had thrown out the report, claiming that he paid for it himself and that it was not of any interest.
“I thought it was inappropriate (to put it on the taxpayer) because it was just a bit of oversight,” he said about the Ratcliff report last May. “I paid for a flight and some hotel rooms, a hotel room. I just thought it was a reasonable thing to do.
“I felt wrong putting it on the taxpayer, I thought that’s something I should do, so, anyway, anyway.
“It just wasn’t that important.”
The NT Independent has filed an application through Freedom of Information laws with the Department of Chief Minister and Cabinet, seeking details about the nature of Mr Hough’s work, the amount paid to Mr Hough and the findings of his investigation.
Mr Gunner, ministerial offices, public service departments and the NT Police Fire and Emergency Services do not respond to questions from the NT Independent.