Deepening Labor dissent and a debt crisis to drag on for Chief Minister Michael Gunner
Northern Territory Cabinet Minister Ken Vowles has refused to answer whether he supports the Chief Minister, as internal cracks over the Government’s handling of the economy continue to widen.
- Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ken Vowles fails to pledge his support for Chief Minister in radio interview
- Backbenchers Jeff Collins and Scott McConnell reiterate their dissatisfaction in how the debt crisis announcement was handled
- Public confidence in the Territory’s politicians is badly eroded, say backbenchers
In emails leaked to the media yesterday, Mr Vowles warned Labor colleagues the public no longer has faith in the Government’s economic management, after a report released on Friday revealed ballooning levels of debt and structural deficit.
On Darwin radio station Mix 104.9, Mr Vowles was asked three times whether Michael Gunner has his confidence.
“The Chief Minister is the Chief Minister … and we’re all going to have a great Christmas,” Mr Vowles said.
“He’s doing the best job he can in these times and I wish him well over Christmas.”
“Doesn’t sound like he’s got your confidence,” presenter Katie Woolf said.
“Well, hopefully he’s having a great break because he does deserve it,” Mr Vowles replied.
Mr Gunner left for annual leave on Friday, the afternoon that Treasurer Nicole Manison released the report publicly.
Since then, Mr Gunner has repeatedly turned down requests for interviews with the ABC.
Earlier today, Ms Manison said: “I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have two weeks off at Christmas to go see your family.”
Mr Gunner is currently hiking in New Zealand with his wife Kristy O’Brien.
NT Cabinet Minister Ken Vowles failed to offer his support to Chief Minister Michael Gunner during a radio interview. (ABC News: Mitchell Woolnough)
‘Not the way for a leader to behave’
Labor backbencher Jeff Collins criticised Mr Gunner’s decision to go on holidays after the release of the damning Treasury report that found without cuts to spending, net debt could rise tenfold to $35 billion over the next decade.
“It’s not the way that I would expect to behave as a leader,” Mr Collins said.
“The news came out on the Friday afternoon.
“One would have expected a response from the leader on the day.
“Ultimately it’s the leader of the party that carries the can for everything.”
Fellow backbencher Scott McConnell echoed the sentiment, and said it was “not a very good value judgement” of Mr Gunner’s to have left for holidays considering the situation.
“I believe that there was a release of a very important document from the Treasurer’s office and it was released at lunchtime on a Friday — I don’t think that’s a very good look,” Mr McConnell said.
“I think a very important document like that should be released at a very different time than lunchtime on Friday. That was concerning.
“Then I found out through the media that the Chief Minister had actually gone on leave and was unavailable to comment on this very important document.
“I think that’s a very bad look.”
NT public ‘sick of politicians’
Mr Gunner is also the chairman of the Budget Review Committee announced in April to oversee $800 million worth of budget cuts in the public service.
If the financial crisis drags on, Mr Collins said it could be very damaging for the Government.
“In fact, it could simply be the issue that defines the election,” he said.
“We do really need to work hard to get the confidence of the community back.”
Mr McConnell said the Territory public “is sick of politicians”.
“I think we’ve got a really bad reputation in the Northern Territory,” he said.
Mr Collins said he was fed up with being sidelined by Cabinet and he would not back down from his position revealed in the leaked emails.
“It is the most important issue for Territorians,” he said.
“We’ve had this report that’s come out and I’m disappointed that 18 months down the track we are not in the position that we intended to be in.
“The time has come for people to speak up and actually get the Government to commit to making the changes that are necessary.”