NT Labor row erupts over scrutiny of new laws around police patrolling bottle shop
The NT Government will not refer several pieces of new legislation, including ones allowing police auxiliaries to patrol bottle shops, to a scrutiny committee. (ABC News: Claire Campbell)
An internal row has erupted within the Northern Territory Labor Government over its decision not to refer a controversial piece of legislation to a scrutiny committee.
Some Labor MLAs say the government is breaching its election promise to be transparent and accountable.
- After it was elected in 2016 the NT Labor Government set up two committees to scrutinise new legislation
- The idea was to ensure government was “transparent and accountable”
- The government has opted not to send a controversial piece of legislation to this committee, prompting an internal row
After four years of CLP rule marred by scandal and division, the Gunner Labor Government came to power in 2016 promising to restore trust in government and ensure transparency and accountability, including in the running of the parliament.
But yesterday, the government revealed several pieces of legislation — including new laws allowing police auxiliaries to patrol bottle shops — would not be referred to a new committee it set up to provide greater scrutiny of legislation.
The government’s proposed laws allowing police auxiliaries to patrol bottle shops have come under heavy criticism from the Northern Territory’s police union.
Some of the government’s own members are concerned the legislation will entrench a system that targets Indigenous residents.
The ABC understands there were “tense” discussions in a caucus meeting yesterday, when several Labor MLAs urged the government to meet its commitment to be open and transparent and send the “complex” legislation to a scrutiny committee for review.
“They argued for it because it was a piece of legislation that they felt required scrutiny because it’s a more complex issue than was being portrayed,” one MLA said.
“Also, just the general proposition that we promised the people we would be open and transparent, and we would open parliament to the people, and we would allow the scrutiny of the passage of legislation.
“It seemed like a very clear backflip on that promise.”
The government can avoid sending the legislation to a scrutiny committee under new parliamentary rules it announced this week.
Some Labor MLAs expressed disappointment the government has decided to relax the rules it established just last year to ensure most legislation was referred to a committee for review.
“All of a sudden it’s being rolled back, and it’s being rolled back at a time when there’s legislation that really should have further scrutiny,” one Labor MLA said.
‘There’s been a full inquiry process’
Chief Minister Michael Gunner denies the government is avoiding scrutiny of proposed bottle shop laws. (ABC News)
NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner denied the government was avoiding scrutiny of its proposed laws on bottle shop patrols, saying the policy had already been examined by the government’s alcohol review, headed by former NT Chief Justice Trevor Riley.
He also said the community would still have time to discuss the changes.
“It’s not like this has suddenly come from nowhere, there’s been a full inquiry process leading up to this,” Mr Gunner told parliament.
But Independent Gerry Wood said the legislation the government had drawn up in response to the review still needed to be scrutinised because many questions remained about the legal, economic, and social impacts.
Under the government’s plan, 75 police auxiliaries will be hired and trained to take over bottle shop patrols from police officers who are currently doing the work.
They will be given powers to tip out alcohol and stop alcohol sales to people who live in areas where grog is banned.
But the NT’s police union has questioned how police auxiliaries, who normally receive less training and who usually work in administrative and support roles, will be prepared for front line work.
“I ask the government not to do a rush job on this, to put it through one of the scrutiny committees,” Mr Wood said.
Both Mr Wood and fellow Independent Robyn Lambley said they were disappointed the new parliamentary rules would allow the government to bypass the scrutiny committee process.
“These scrutiny committees were set up less than six months ago to scrutinise all legislation coming before the Northern Territory parliament,” Mrs Lambley said.
“Now we know the minister will pick and choose which pieces of legislation will be scrutinised by the scrutiny committee and that’s not good enough.”
The government also revealed yesterday that amendments to the Youth Justice Act including changes to rules governing the use of force, isolation and restraints would bypass the scrutiny committee too because the changes were “straight from” the royal commission into youth detention and child protection.