Kezia Purick has been — until early this morning at least — a popular and more-than-competent speaker of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly. But in a close-to-midnight move by the leader of government business, John Elferink, the Country Liberal Party tried to get Purick removed as speaker for apparent non-compliance with the standards expected of the speaker of an Australian parliament.

In support of his motion Elferink told the assembly that:

“… it has become increasingly evident with the passage of time that such impartiality one would expect from a Speaker has not been coming from the Chair either inside or outside the House. It is not unusual for you to make a number of Facebook posts during the course of the sitting day and at other times. You make many Facebook posts and I would care to give you a number of examples. On 24 April 2015, you reflected on the member for Fong Lim in relation to urban blocks and then stridently criticised a member of this House. Also on the 14 September 2015, you stridently criticised government, and on other occasions you have chosen to reflect on members of this House, government members and other members, thus raising the doubt of your partisanship in this house.”

Apart from the apparent outrage at Purick’s flair for social media, it appears that the real source of the CLP’s outrage at Purick’s conduct was that she had the temerity to, in her capacity as the member for Goyder, propose a reference to the parliamentary privileges committee in relation to a series of government advertisements in the local NT News that criticised Labor and the independents for failing to support a bill to combat the trafficking of methamphetamines into the NT.

Purick told the assembly:

“The members who voted against the motion to suspend standing orders did not vote against the second reading of the bill. To claim they did so is misleading the community at large and to frame the advertisements, as they have, the responsible person has attempted to interfere with the orderly business of the members of this Assembly and attempted to obstruct those named members in the course of their duty. Publication of the material, which is aimed at unduly influencing a member and disruption of a member in their role, is a possible contempt of this Assembly.”

Elferink then moved that debate on Purick’s motion be adjourned, and, with the surprise support of independent MLA Larisa Lee, that motion was successful. Lee, who defected from the CLP to Clive Palmer’s PUP party in April 2014, said of the CLP at the time:

“If we are going to walk out, that is going to be the proudest moments of our lives, to leave the Country Liberal Party, because we are not breast-plated niggers.”

At around 11pm last evening Elferink tabled a motion that sought:

“… that so much of standing orders be suspended as would allow me to move the following motion and subsequently have the question determined:

1.       that the Speaker is removed from office by the Legislative Assembly in accordance with Section 24(2)(d) of the Northern Territory Self Government Act 1978

2.       that a new Speaker be elected pursuant to Standing Order 7.”

Then followed several hours of heated debate into the wee hours of this morning.

Long story short is that, again with the support of Larisa Lee, the CLP was successful in having standing orders suspended. The assembly proceeded to debate and then vote on the substantive issue that a new speaker be elected.

Labor proposed Purick for the position and the CLP proposed member for Greatorex, Matt Conlan. On the numbers it seemed to all present that Purick was done for.

But the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley …

It seems there was a rat — or at least a mouse — in the CLP ranks.

Sometime after 3am this morning Kezia Purick was re-elected 13 votes to 12 as speaker of the NT Legislative Assembly and she was led back to the speaker’s chair to the cheers of Labor and the independents.

The Northern Myth has been informed that the ballot was secret, with each member indicating their vote by named choice with his or her name also appearing on the ballot paper. But only the clerk of the assembly will know who flipped … though there are more than a few candidates.

Earlier today Purick told the NT News that the move against her was “alarming” and “unprecedented”.

“’What lessons has the government learned from this?’ she said. ‘They cannot communicate effectively enough between them to accomplish something and they have once again misgauged the public’s sentiment.’”

They don’t call it the troppo season up here for nothing.

Watch this space.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey