When exiled Labor MLA Ken Vowles flicked through the classifieds of the NT News, he saw a cheeky Valentine’s Day message that made him laugh.
- Ken Vowles said he was still upset about the way the Labor Party treated him
- But he said steps towards reconciliation with some of his colleagues were made this week
- Minister Natasha Fyles said Mr Vowles still needs to prove himself
“Kenny, your absence has left a hole in my heart as deep as my budget black hole,” the anonymous notice said.
“I miss you. Michael.”
It was almost two months since Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner dumped his former Aboriginal affairs and resources minister from Cabinet, after Mr Vowles refused to publicly declare his support for the Labor leader.
But any chance of a Valentine’s Day make-up between the pair was not on the cards.
“I think we’ve got a long, long way to go there,” Mr Vowles said.
“At the end of the day, I’m not going to swear allegiance to this Chief Minister.
‘I will not be crossing the floor’
Despite the animosity between the pair, the Member for Johnston gave his clearest picture yet of his parliamentary future since he was stripped of his ministerial portfolios in December after he also made disparaging remarks about the Government’s economic management.
“I will not be voting against our Government,” Mr Vowles said.
“I will not be crossing the floor against the Labor Government in our Parliament.
“I want to remain in the Labor Party. If I cross the floor and vote against Government, I could be immediately expelled.”
Mr Vowles reserved the right to abstain from voting on some issues.
“In difficult circumstances, in regards to different motions and bills coming before the Parliament … I’ll abstain,” he said.
Following his dismissal from Cabinet and the Labor Caucus in December, Mr Vowles held a press conference in which he launched a scathing attack on Mr Gunner and his chief of staff, Alf Leonardi.
“Michael Gunner doesn’t fart without Alf Leonardi saying so,” he said at the time.
Mr Vowles did not shy away from his earlier comments.
“Make no mistake. I am still pissed off, I am still upset,” he said.
“I stand by those comments.”
He said he had accepted the punishment he received from the party.
“I know there were some repercussions, I’m chucked in the sin bin,” he said.
“And I understand. I smell the roses, I smell the weeds.
“But at the end of the day, I want all of us to be working in repairing the Northern Territory [budget] because it needs us.”
An ‘opportunity to prove himself’
Mr Vowles said this week’s parliamentary proceedings had seen the first “small steps” towards a reconciliation with some of his colleagues, whose support he will need if he is to return to the Labor Caucus.
“Me being allowed back into the parliamentary wing won’t be a decision of Michael [Gunner],” he said.
“It’ll be a decision of Caucus. Michael is one vote in a Caucus of 15.”
Leader of Government Business Natasha Fyles said Mr Vowles still needed to prove himself.
“The Caucus said his behaviour in the lead-up to Christmas was not acceptable, destabilising the Government.
“But Ken now has that opportunity to prove himself to his Caucus colleagues.”