NT government dismisses judicial inquiry

The Northern Territory opposition is calling for a judicial inquiry into ministerial travel, but the chief minister has shrugged it off as unnecessary.

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NT Labor accused the government of “hiding from providing detail around ministerial travel” after it was announced that the Department of the Chief Minister would run a review from June 2014 until the end of this financial year into potential overcharging by travel agencies of government departments.

NT Police last week announced it is investigating “a potential anomaly” in a ministerial travel transaction processed by Latitude Travel for that very same department.

The head of that agency, Xana Kamitsis, will face a Supreme Court trial in November for allegedly defrauding a government-subsidised pensioner travel assistance scheme of more than $100,000.

But the government continued using her agency to book travel until about a month ago.

Labor spokeswoman Nicole Manison on Tuesday said the terms of reference for the government’s review didn’t inspire confidence.

“There are simply too many questions that remain unanswered; we need to see some real independence, some real rigour,” she told reporters.

The government’s review should reach back to at least October 2012, she said, when questions were first raised about whether travel agents were rorting the travel scheme.

“I don’t think territorians have much trust in this government, and that’s because of their actions … they’ve ducked, they’ve weaved, they’ve absolutely hidden away from providing answers,” Ms Manison said.

But Chief Minister Adam Giles dismissed the call: “Another day, another call for a public inquiry by Labor.”

He said the timeframe of his department’s inquiry, which only covers about four months before Ms Kamitsis’ arrest last year, was adequate.

The government had inherited a long-standing travel system for booking ministerial trips via a local travel agent, he said.

“We recognise the ills of that process, we’ve changed it, we now have corporate travel agencies; about 90 per cent of government travel is done through that, including about 50 per cent of ministers, we’re slowly transitioning to have that whole process put in place,” Mr Giles said.

“What we are is open and transparent, we’re very prepared to provide any information that might be asked for.”

The government has also dismissed calls for the establishment of an anti-corruption body, as recommended by the NT Ombudsman last week.

It has come under fire for several months over allegations of extravagant travel by ministers.