Government accused of shutting down debate in extraordinary…

Government accused of shutting down debate in extraordinary...

Government accused of shutting down debate in extraordinary…

The Northern Territory Government has ditched Question Time in order to push emergency coronavirus legislation through Parliament, prompting complaints from the Opposition and independents about a lack of scrutiny and debate.

Friday’s emergency sitting of NT Parliament — the first since it adjourned indefinitely last month — was called to enact changes to tenancy laws, new offences for spitting or coughing on workers and amendments to allow power price cuts for businesses impacted by coronavirus.

The government has copped criticism for failing to commit to a six-month moratorium on evictions in line with last month’s agreement in national cabinet, opting instead to extend negotiation and notice periods to protect tenants for up to 120 days.

But Opposition and independent MLAs accused Labor of blocking scrutiny of the emergency measures by using its parliamentary majority to suspend Question Time on Friday.

Country Liberals leader Lia Finocchiaro accused the Government of a developing “dictatorial” approach to managing the pandemic crisis.

“We recognised that we had to empower the Government to do things differently, to be agile, to respond in this time of crisis,” Ms Finocchiaro said.

A grand looking building is surrounded by palm trees.
The NT Parliament sat to pass emergency legislation in response to the coronavirus pandemic.(ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

Central Australian independent Stuart Scott McConnell also criticised the Government for its handling of the emergency legislation, saying its actions lacked transparency.

“There is no need to ram this stuff through, there is no need to not have adequate debate within the chamber,” he said.

NT Attorney-General Natasha Fyles defended the suspension of normal processes.

She said the emergency measures had to be passed quickly to provide relief for Territorians “doing it tough”.

She said the Public Accounts Committee sessions, which will take place once a month beginning next Thursday, would allow for scrutiny of the $3.4 billion in emergency funds released by the Government in response to coronavirus.

Eviction bans barred in NT: Labor

After weeks of uncertainty, amendments unveiled on Friday morning confirmed the NT will not implement the six-month eviction bans enacted in all other jurisdictions bar Tasmania.

Attorney-General Natasha Fyles said the NT’s Self Government Act barred the introduction of a moratorium or simple rent freezes or waivers through provisions explicitly prohibiting acquisitions that are not on just terms.

Instead, a negotiation and mediation process will mean commercial tenants have up to 90 days’ protection before they can be forced out of a business premise.

Residential tenants will have 60 days until notices can be issued about rental arrears and another 60 days before they can be evicted.

Renters will have to provide proof of financial hardship, defined as a reduction in income so that rental payments exceed 30 per cent of household income.

Commercial landlords will qualify for payroll tax and power bill cuts if they negotiate with tenants in good faith, which the Attorney-General said underscored the emphasis on negotiation and cooperation.

“It is this Territory spirit, that we all need to pitch in together and work with each other, to ensure that as a society, as Territorians, we get through the crisis in a way that allows us — when the health crisis ends — to get up and get on with things,” Natasha Fyles said.

Country Liberals leader Lia Finocchiaro said the Opposition and independents were only briefed on the emergency tenancy changes on Thursday and had little time to consider or consult on them.

She said it was unclear how a new overarching power for the Minister to modify tenancy legislation and regulation during the pandemic would work.

“We have a government come in to Parliament with very little consultation, then very little time for Opposition and crossbench members to analyse this legislation, and then we’re being told by this Government, ‘don’t worry, just trust us, we’ve got this'” she said.

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The Virus: We could be in for an ‘early mark’ on physical distancing measures

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