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NT govt won't write Elferink blank cheques

AAP logoAAP 11/10/2016 Lucy Hughes Jones

Northern Territory Attorney-General Natasha Fyles says the government refuses to write "blank cheques" for sacked NT Corrections Minister John Elferink after his legal funding for the royal commission into youth detention was cut.

Ms Fyles said the government had already given him an up-front payment of $57,753, and he has the opportunity to seek reimbursement for additional costs after the royal commission wraps up.

She said Mr Elferink was informed of the two-stage funding process in September, and the new government needed to protect taxpayer dollars.

"It's not simply for lawyers to have a free for all with fees," Ms Fyles said.

"The Northern Territory government will not write blank cheques for Mr Elferink or anyone else."

Mr Elferink resigned in the wake of the damning ABC Four Corners footage of boys being tear gassed, spit hooded and shackled at Don Dale Youth Detention Centre.

Andrew Harris, the lawyer representing Mr Elferink at the inquiry in Darwin's Supreme Court, said the former attorney-general doesn't have the "financial wherewithal" to fund his own representation.

"It's disappointing to have to make that statement on day one of proceedings," Mr Harris said on Tuesday.

Mr Harris also took a swipe at the ABC's coverage, which sparked the royal commission.

"In its treatment of Mr Elferink, the ABC Four Corners program was dishonest and unprofessional," he said.

Ms Fyles said she was unaware whether any of Mr Elferink's legal grant was used to explore defamation options against the ABC.

"$57,000 is a significant amount of legal representation that has been paid considering today is the first day of hearings and minister Elferink has not yet been called as a witness," she said.

The NT and commonwealth governments have agreed to split the costs of the royal commission, and the territory government has already dedicated $25 million. But Ms Fyles admitted the March 2017 reporting date could blow out, extending the budget.

"Already today we've seen proceedings draw out significantly longer than people expected," she said.

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