By ERWIN CHLANDA
Born again Chief Minister Adam Giles may be dismissing yesterday’s outrageous events as a bit of a tiff in an otherwise happy family, but the long knives in the CLP are far from sheathed – and the nation is laughing.
A source in the party has told the Alice Springs News Online that “there’s good reason behind the party not welcoming Willem [Westra van Holthe] as Chief Minister, and it’s nothing to do with loyalty to Adam”.
That source provided us with an Ombudsman’s report in 2004 about Mr van Holthe’s actions in a car deal when he was a senior constable in the Katherine police station the year before.
This deal also involved two other police officers, according to the report, and took the view that allegations of several improper acts were sustained.
When the matter was raised by the Labor Party in 2011 it was reported by the NT News that Mr van Holthe “refused to discuss the case … but has said through the CLP media office that it was settled in court more than six years ago”.
That report also quoted John Elferink as describing Labor as a “hate machine”.
A similar apparatus clearly was at work within the CLP yesterday at 4pm. The source also told us of another issue about which we are making enquiries. Mr van Holthe himself is stonewallling.
Meanwhile the extraordinary events has the nation shaking its head in disbelief.
Questions are likely to be asked about how much longer Canberra will leave the spending of five thousand million dollars a year of public money in the hands an organisation so crassly dysfunctional.
The time line of the brawl starting Monday afternoon: A Parliamentary wing meeting – at least one member is not invited – a 1am media conference – the announcement that the Chief Minister has been rolled – Mr van Holthe is the new “chief” and John Elferink (known for getting his numbers wrong in spills) is the deputy – they turn up at Government House to be sworn in – oops, little snag, Mr Giles refuses to resign – a move is made to force his resignation – Mr Giles suggests mass resignations from the CLP cast doubt on its status as a legitimate party – Mr Giles says Mr van Holthe has neither the competency nor capacity for the role of Chief Minister – Mr van Holthe approaches PUP Members Alison Anderson and Larissa Lee for support – surprise, surprise, it dawns on him he can’t form a government with the numbers he has – in the afternoon a wing meeting lasting several hours – Mr van Holthe has apparently acquired competence – and then, all sweetness and light: Mr Giles gets to remain CM and his arch foe is his deputy.
The take on this charade by ABC 24 Hours is typical of the disbelief sweeping the nation:
FEMALE PRESENTER: Adam Giles, still the Chief Minister, and the guy who wanted to take the job there as his deputy.
MALE PRESENTER: Even though they hate each other. And they’ve said so publicly.
FEMALE PRESENTER: It’s going to work beautifully.
MALE PRESENTER: Fantastic.
[NOTE appended on February 8: A propos “disbelief” – the ABC TV Insiders panel this morning got a very good laugh out of what’s passing as politics in the Northern Territory.]
Meanwhile, back to the report on Mr van Holthe’s car deal before he became a politician, the Ombudsman’s Senior Investigation Officer Jane Hartwig found “issues of improper conduct regarding actions of Senior Constable Westra van Holthe” who was the buyer and subsequent seller of the vehicle sold to a buyer in Lajamanu.
Ms Hartwig said the investigation had been conducted by the Professional Responsibility Command of the NT Police on behalf of the Ombudsman, under the supervision of the Joint Review Committee (JRC).
She dealt with allegations that Mr van Holthe “negotiated the private purchase of [the] vehicle whilst on duty and in uniform … altered the original notice of disposal in an attempt to avoid payment of transfer fees, penalties for late lodgement and/or stamp duty”.
Ms Hartwig wrote in the 19 page report that vehicle registration documents can be lodged at the Lajamanu police station which is also a Motor Vehicle Registration office, and documents are carried to Katherine in a sealed remittance package.
A police officer from Lajamanu took the package to Mr van Holthe’s home in Katherine, allowing him to sign documents.
“The investigator put it to [van Holthe] that he took advantage of his position as a police officer to get otherwise unauthorised access to the remittance package documents. He did this so as to regularise the documentation relating to his version of the transaction.
“[Van Holthe] disputes that his action is a conflict of interest.
“The JRC is of the opinion that the unauthorised access is a conflict of interest and improper conduct.”
Ms Hartwig wrote “the JRC finds that” the following allegations against S/Constable Westra van Holthe are “sustained,” namely that he has, in breach of the Code of Conduct when he –
• failed to transfer his registration over within 14 days of purchase;
• falsely declared the sale date on the Application to Register / Renew / Transfer a Vehicle document;
• falsely declared the sale date on the Notice of Disposal form;
• committed a breach of discipline … in relation to his involvement in the sale of the vehicle.
The Ombudsman said in response to an enquiry from us about what resulted from the report that “Section 120 of the Ombudsman Act prohibits the disclosure of information obtained in the course of our duties to anyone, unless the disclosure is for an authorised purpose. As your request is not for an authorised purpose this Office cannot release the requested information.”
We contacted Mr van Holthe and his media adviser, to offer right of reply, by email at 8.01 am today, and by phone or text this morning at 7:40, 8:22, 8:23, 8:26, 9:14 and 10.53, leaving messages. We were unable to get past their answering machines. We will post any response.
PHOTOS: Mr Giles (left) and Mr van Holthe in an ABC TV news broadcast whose presenters displayed amazement at the events. • Parts of the Ombudsman’s report into a car deal conducted by Mr van Holthe when he was a police officer.
By ERWIN CHLANDA