NT Chief Minister ‘extremely angry’ at exiled Labor colleagues in wake of Labor scandal
Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner has said dishonesty from former members of his Labor team stopped him from “acting early and publicly” to address a growing political scandal plaguing his Government.
- Mr Gunner has been under sustained pressure over his handling of the Labor scandal
- The scandal has led to the sacking of an MLA from Caucus and the resignation of a staffer
- Mr Gunner confirmed he had been made aware of the scandal rumours early in the week of February 8
In a statement released on Sunday, Mr Gunner castigated Blain MLA Mark Turner, who has been expelled from caucus, and a Labor staffer who resigned in the wake of the scandal, for misleading the Government in the wake of growing rumours about them.
“I want to be clear with Territorians: I am extremely angry and disappointed in the behaviour of former members of my team in relation to this matter,” he said.
“What has become clear to me, is that former members of my team showed extremely poor judgement and did not meet my standards, or the standards of my caucus.”
But Mr Gunner has been accused by the Opposition Leader of failing a test of leadership by not properly investigating the matter — a failing Ms Finocchiaro said amounted to “a cover-up”.
“If you don’t investigate and you don’t deny, and you’ve known about it all week, and you don’t come clean with Territorians — that is a cover-up. I don’t know any other way to describe it,” Ms Finocchiaro said.
Independent Robyn Lambley has also called for Mr Gunner to resign over his handling of the matter, which first emerged publicly in a report in the Sunday Territorian on February 14.
On that day, Ms Finocchiaro issued a statement saying she had been made aware of “serious allegations” involving members of the NT Labor Party and called on Mr Gunner to address them.
Ms Finocchiaro later described the allegations as being related to a “cocaine sex scandal”.
In response, Mr Gunner repeatedly accused the Opposition Leader of spreading “internet gossip” saying there was no substance to the allegations.
However, on Wednesday evening Mr Turner addressed parliament and admitted to an inappropriate friendship with a “private citizen” that was “too intimate”.
He insisted he had not engaged in any illegal activity and had the Chief Minister’s support in making the statement.
But the Chief Minister on Thursday changed his position and told parliament Mr Turner had been banished from the party caucus and removed from his role as deputy speaker.
Mr Gunner also confirmed that one of his staffers — who he said categorically rejected any allegations of criminal activity — had resigned to “seek support for personal issues during a distressing time”.
On Sunday, Mr Gunner had also shifted his comments on the staffer saying he has since found out the ex-staffer had also acted dishonestly.
“He wasn’t entirely forthcoming with us about the extent of his relationship with the private citizen, and that was troubling … he wasn’t up front with us as we tried to work our way through this issue,” Mr Gunner said.
Mr Gunner added that the staff member would have been sacked if he hadn’t resigned.
He also said he was not aware of a police investigation involving Mr Turner or the former staffer.
Mr Gunner has also denied that anyone on his staff worked with Mr Turner to “cover up” the extra-marital affair.
Text messages from Mr Turner to the woman at the centre of the scandal, which have been leaked to the media, suggested Mr Turner was taking advice from someone about comments she should make about the affair.
“At no point did any member of my team advise the Member for Blain on how to cover-up information. I strongly reject any suggestions to the contrary,” Mr Gunner said on Sunday.
Lack of action due to lack of evidence: Gunner
On Sunday, Mr Gunner said he first heard of rumours implicating party members early in the week of February 8. He said he did not act on the matter earlier because, up until last Wednesday, he was being misled by the two members in question.
“Without doubt, if people had been more forthcoming with us, we would have acted earlier and publicly, but we did what we could with the information we had,” he said.
“We did everything we could within our powers to test those rumours and they were strongly denied.
“I want to be clear: we have the same workplace HR processes as any other workplace. We went as far as we could with the ability that we had to work out what was going on here and it was strongly denied.”
When asked if he would have done anything differently to handle the matter after downplaying the allegations as rumours and internet gossip last week, Mr Gunner defended his actions.
“I think we’ve got to be extremely careful about elevating gossip to public debate,” he said.
“I don’t believe it’s controversial still to describe allegations without evidence as gossip. And I still don’t think it’s controversial to describe whether someone is or isn’t having an affair as gossip.”
Mr Gunner said he did not believe any further action needed to be taken to ensure appropriate standards within the Labor Party were upheld.
“We acted against our standards,” he said. “I don’t think our standards were at fault. I think individuals who didn’t meet those standards are at fault,” he said.
“But I’ll be having a meeting on Monday to double-down on that so there is absolute clarity about the standard here.”
Blain MLA’s party status at risk
On Sunday, Mr Gunner indicated the Mr Turner could be stripped of his party status, saying his decision to exclude the Member for Blain from caucus could be considered a recommendation to the party around that issue.
“I have let the president of the party know that that exclusion from our Labor parliamentary team could be considered by her as a recommendation,” he said.
“I am extremely disappointed by how this week evolved and how the story changed during the week. It would be fair to say that that anger is shared by my team.”
Mr Gunner said he would not be sacking Mr Turner from the party and said the matter was a decision for Mr Turner.