By ERWIN CHLANDA
“With due respect, Michael Gunner has proved that he is not the best Chief Minister we can have.”
That is the blunt message of Scott McConnell (pictured), Member for the Central Australian seat of Stuart, and one of the three Labor Caucus members sacked by Mr Gunner last week.
“I am openly asking Michael Gunner to reflect about his ability to lead the government,” Mr McConnell said in an interview with the Alice Springs News Online today.
The final straw for the government’s long time critic was Mr Gunner’s handling of the announcement of the Territory’s catastrophic financial situation.
The release of this “very important document” occurred “around lunchtime” of Friday, December 14, says Mr McConnell, “not long before Christmas.
“Typically when documents are released on a Friday it is to avoid scrutiny and that doesn’t look too good when you are a government that says it is all about transparency.”
Mr McConnell says even though he was still available the Chief Minster did not appear with his Treasurer.
“Media requested interviews, from the Leader, Michael Gunner, only to discover that he had already or was about to depart on leave.
“That demonstrated a failure to support his Treasurer.
“It was a seminal and very important document. He should have been present when it was released and it should not have been released on a Friday afternoon just before Christmas.
“There were legitimate questions that the community deserves to have answered.
“It was his error of judgement alone, and it is not appropriate for him to expect other Labor members to now carry the can for him.”
Mr McConnell says the following day a confidential email chain was circulating between the 18 Caucus members where “cogent and important points were made, including about a road forward”, with Minister Ken Vowles and Caucus members Jeff Collins as prominent participants.
Both were subsequently sacked by Mr Gunner.
Mr McConnell says it was clear the emails were “deliberately leaked” to the Murdoch NT News.
“The commentary going around was that it was “strategically leaked by a staffer on the Fifth Floor – that’s is the allegation that’s being put around at the moment.”
The Fifth Floor is where the government minders have their offices.
“Regardless of how the document became public knowledge the concerns expressed in it were very legitimate,” says Mr McConnell.
He says there was no criticism, in fact it contains “suggestions to re-allocate workloads so that the Treasurer might be able to commit more time to working on the issues.”
However, it is now clear that any commentary is interpreted as undermining the Chief Minister.
He called an emergency caucus meeting “and without any due process or natural justice” the three people were expelled for the remainder of the term.
“It is abhorrent. It is unjust,” says Mr McConnell. None of the statements by the three expelled members were “unreasonable, anything that isn’t a legitimate part of going forward.
“We think that he has probably overstepped his authority and we are checking on that as well.”
He says avenues for an appeal may be available through the Labor Party in the Territory and Federally, and there may also be legal options, “but I am reaching out here to the court of public opinion, so to speak”.
Mr McConnell says he will continue to represent Stuart as a “loyal member of the Labor Party” for the remainder of the term.
He makes it clear that financial issues had “not been discussed with me at any length at any time. I don’t know much more than what is on the public record.
“We need a competent government and a competent leadership to take us through these issues and that is not by expelling people who are expressing concerns.
“A lot of these things should be much more in the public domain.”
Has he asked for the information?
“The leadership team has the responsibility to keep people duly informed. They are the ones who are making those decisions.
Mr McConnell had first expressed concerns over the Gunner leadership style nearly two years ago, in an interview with the Alice Springs News Online on January 18, 2017.
“The response to that was trying to undermine me with my Caucus colleagues, saying my statements were undermining Ministers. They were deliberately misrepresenting me to undermine me.”
Caucus members do not get informed, he says: “They have excluded us. I got special treatment because I was outspoken … to try and strengthen the team, to try and generate some of these discussions.
It did not happen “and now look at the situation we’re in.
“I suspect I was regularly denied the opportunity to find out things for quite some time which is why I have been referring to my Parliamentary office as Campdog Corner.
“I feel I haven’t been included in a lot of things. I have never had a detailed briefing about the financial position of the NT.”
Mr McConnell could not answer questions we put to Ms Manison on December 16, about the loans, including the amount, interest rate, period, from whom they were obtained and what is the collateral. Ms Manison has not given us a reply.
Says Mr McConnell: “If someone asks questions about the direction we are going in, is Michael Gunner’s response going to be to sack them? I don’t know where to go from here.”
Gunner not the best Chief Minister we can have: McConnell
By ERWIN CHLANDA