The Opposition has accused the Gunner Government of “witness tampering” and “perverting the course of justice” after the NT Independent revealed Labor backbencher Mark Turner attempted to persuade his lover to make a false public statement about their affair, and suggested the cover-up of the sex scandal has put Chief Minister Michael Gunner’s leadership in jeopardy.
In Question Time on Thursday, CLP Member for Barkly Steve Edgington pointed to reports that the NT Police’s Special References Unit are investigating allegations of a cocaine-fuelled sex party and referenced the NT Independent’s story that Mr Turner appeared to have worked with Labor Party operatives to coax the woman to provide a false statement to media about their affair after she had revealed it on local radio on Wednesday.
“Chief Minister, you have led a deliberate cover up of this scandal,” Mr Edgington said.
“This latest revelation of witness tampering is fatal to your leadership. The Member for Blain’s position in Parliament is untenable.
“Can you confirm this is not an attempt to pervert the course of justice?”
Mr Gunner responded with his briefest statement of the day.
“I absolutely confirm that no one in my team, in any way, shape or form has attempted to pervert the course of justice – absolutely confirm that,” he told Parliament.
Mr Gunner sacked Mr Turner from the Labor caucus on Thursday and told Parliament a senior staffer had resigned over his involvement in the sex scandal. He said neither man had engaged in any illegal activity.
The sacking of Mr Turner came after the NT Independent sent Mr Gunner’s director of communications Maria Billias questions about who was involved in helping Mr Turner persuade the woman to lie about her affair. That question has not been answered.
Labor ministers go to ground over scandal, calls for Gunner to resign
Labor ministers were dropping out of planned media events today to avoid journalist’s questions about the scandal that has dogged the government all week and has now raised questions about Mr Gunner’s leadership after he repeatedly refused to look into the matter when it was brought to his attention.
But when exactly Mr Gunner became aware of the serious allegations is still unclear.
Leader of Government business Natasha Fyles was booked to appear on Mix 104.9’s Week that Was program but cancelled before the program, with government advisers saying nobody else was available.
CLP Opposition deputy leader Gerard Maley said on the show that Mr Gunner needed to explain directly to Territorians what is going on with his government and what he knew.
“This is a true test of his leadership and he has failed,” Mr Maley said. “His job is to front up here today and explain to Territorians what he knows.
“Mr Gunner has covered up. What else is he covering up? How can Territorians trust him?”
Mr Maley added that he was deeply concerned about possible criminal misconduct. The texts revealed by the NT Independent showed Mr Turner told his lover that he would “check” with someone about the false statement he had asked to her to publicly release denying the affair.
“He asked her to change her story and then he says ‘I’ll check’,” Mr Maley said. “This is a massive concern for me. Check with who? Check with Michael Gunner? Check with an adviser? Because the person he’s going to check with is also, for joint criminality, could be charged with perverting the course of justice because they’re doing it together.”
Independent Member for Araluen Robyn Lambley also called on the Chief Minister to explain what he knew and when he knew it.
“The cover up is worse than the crime,” Ms Lambley said. “I’m thinking now that Mr Gunner needs to stand down.”