MP travel claims and elections: Were the rules broken or stretched?

In a series of Deirdre Chambers-like coincidences, at least three parliamentarians made claims for travel and travel allowances that coincided with election activities in Queensland and NSW towards the end of 2017.

Labor MP (and former Treasurer) Wayne Swan and Pauline Hanson One Nation Senator Brian Burston made claims for tax payer funded travel to or around Queensland on the weekend of that state’s election in November 2017.

The following week, Nationals Senator for NSW, John Williams, claimed travelling allowance for an overnight stay in Tamworth on the evening of the by-election in New England that saw Barnaby Joyce returned to Parliament after his disqualification in the High Court. Continue reading “MP travel claims and elections: Were the rules broken or stretched?”

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Numbers of Ministerial Staff in Australia – As at April 2018

Numbers of Ministerial staff drawn from the most recent, most authoritative source publicly available

Numbers reflect what is reported as ministerial staff in each jurisdiction: so if personal support staff, such as administrative assistants or drivers, have been reported, these are included in the figures).

  • Number of Ministers and Office Holders are those numbers reported against staff numbers, where available.
  • Victoria does not have a regular reporting regime for ministerial staff numbers, so I’m still reliant on the numbers in a 2015 FOI return
  • NSW last reported its figures in June 2017, failing to report the figures at 30 December 2017.
  • Northern Territory has a global budget for Executive Support, with 295 employees, but does not have a breakdown to the numbers of personal staff provided to support Ministers.
  • Shout out to Tasmania, which provides staffing numbers regularly and in the clearest format.

Continue reading “Numbers of Ministerial Staff in Australia – As at April 2018”

Philip Ruddock on $1440 a day to inquire into freedom of religion

[Updated on 27 February 2018 to incorporate material canvassed at Senate Finance and Public Administration Committee Estimates on the evening of 26 February]

Philip Ruddock, Chair of the Federal Government’s Panel on Religious Freedom, is being paid $1440 a day for the role, according to documents tabled this week on behalf of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC).

The rate is equal to the highest daily fee paid to holders of part time office, and is well in excess of the daily fee paid to such office holders as the chairs of the Administrative Law Council, Family Law Council and National Mental Health Commission.

Ruddock, entitled to a Parliamentary pension estimated to be worth $215,000 a year, also attracts a mayoral allowance of $65,230 in his capacity as Mayor of Hornsby, after his election to that position in September 2017.

On being appointed to the religious freedom role, Ruddock reportedly told Sky News that “he did not know if he was getting paid for the role and he was not interested in the money.” Continue reading “Philip Ruddock on $1440 a day to inquire into freedom of religion”

Choosing an Ombudsman: Revelations from the 1987 NSW Cabinet Papers

The choice for New South Wales’ Ombudsman in 1987 came down to a senior Departmental head and a solicitor with a familiar name in Labor circles; the latter promising a less contested relationship between the government and the Ombudsman’s Office after years of strife between the two.

Cabinet papers for the NSW Government, recently released under the “30 year rule” still applicable in NSW, offer an insight into the appointment of David Landa as NSW’s third Ombudsman.

While the selection panel narrowed the eventual choice to Landa, a prominent solicitor with strong Labor connections, and Trevor Haines, the then Secretary of the Attorney-General’s Department, an impressive shortlist was interviewed, with gender and (relative) youth no bar to inclusion.

However, reducing the eventual choice to Landa and Haines seemingly reflected a desire to create a more harmonious relationship between government and watchdog than existed during the term of George Masterman, QC, who held the post between 1981 and 1987. Continue reading “Choosing an Ombudsman: Revelations from the 1987 NSW Cabinet Papers”

When a Royal Commission Was the Answer to Section 44 Cloud Over MPs

In 1975, faced with an uncertain legal position, and mounting claims and counter-claims of breaches, the Government, acting on an Opposition proposal, made moves to establish a Royal Commission to audit MPs’ compliance with the Constitutional provisions governing disqualification from contesting elections and sitting in Parliament.

Had it proceeded, the Royal Commission would have effectively been tasked with auditing the pecuniary interests of Members of Parliament to enable references of doubtful matters to the Court of Disputed Returns. It would have been further tasked with inquiring into the “present day” appropriateness of all of the disqualifications in sections 44 and 45.

The Royal Commission was ultimately frustrated initially by the unwillingness of suitable judges to take part and then rendered unnecessary by the decision of the High Court in Re Webster in June 1975, which narrowly defined the scope of the ban on having a pecuniary interest in an agreement with the Commonwealth. Continue reading “When a Royal Commission Was the Answer to Section 44 Cloud Over MPs”

Just in Time? Malcolm Roberts’ 1974 Application for Citizenship by Notification

The documents behind the Buzzfeed story on how Senator Malcolm Roberts, indicating he was a British subject in his 1974 application for Australian citizenship, suggests a “just in time” application regarding his citizenship status. Roberts, and his father, were among the last to be recognised by a streamlined process intended to provide long standing British subjects with fast, simple recognition of citizenship. Continue reading “Just in Time? Malcolm Roberts’ 1974 Application for Citizenship by Notification”

Section 44: Questions about the timing of a disqualification.

The possibility that the election of Queensland Senator Malcolm Roberts might be voided because he was disqualified by standing while still a British citizen, without having taken sufficient steps by nomination day to renounce that citizenship, has given rise to further questions as to what would occur if a likely successor were also disqualified.

This is complicated by the possibility of the disqualifying circumstances occurring after the 2016 election, but before (or while) the High Court considered how a person might fill a Senate seat vacated by any disqualification of Roberts.

The third placed candidate on the Pauline Hanson’s One Nation (PHON) ticket, Fraser Anning, is reportedly facing bankruptcy proceedings. If he were bankrupt or insolvent, the Constitution would seem to indicate he would be incapable of being chosen or sitting as a Senator. If it were ruled that he too was incapable of being chosen by reason of disqualification, then the likely outcome would be that the fourth member of the PHON ticket, Judy Smith (Pauline Hanson’s sister), would be declared the second PHON Senator for Queensland. Continue reading “Section 44: Questions about the timing of a disqualification.”

Forty Year Ombudsman Tradition Trashed by Turnbull

Yesterday’s announcement that the vacant role of Commonwealth Ombudsman would be filled by the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP), Michael Manthorpe, brings to an end a forty year bipartisan tradition of appointments not being directly made from the ranks of frontline departmental management.

While the post was reportedly offered to several departmental heads in the early years of the Hawke Government, every previous appointee since the establishment of the Office in 1977 has held a post in academia, consumer advocacy, legal or judicial administration, or oversight and complaints handling immediately prior to appointment. Continue reading “Forty Year Ombudsman Tradition Trashed by Turnbull”

Consequences of Disqualification as a Senator on Votes and Payments

[Updated on 6 April 2017, to address the High Court findings in Re Day [No. 2] (2017) as well as other changes in circumstances since the original post].

With the High Court finding that Rod Culleton and Bob Day were each ineligible to contest the 2016 Senate Election, and thus ineligible to be elected and sit in the Senate during the 45th Parliament, and with Day disqualified from sitting as a Senator for several months in the previous Parliament, a number of questions arise as to the consequences of this decisions for their votes while sitting in the Senate, and the recovery of any payments made to them. Continue reading “Consequences of Disqualification as a Senator on Votes and Payments”

Re Webster: Members of Parliament, Pecuniary Interests and Disqualification – A Background

At the heart of the High Court challenge to Bob Day’s qualification to contest the Double Dissolution election of 2016 lies the case of Senator James Webster in 1975. Contentious at the time in the midst of wider political controversy, and thought potentially capable of opening up to scrutiny all manner of contractual arrangements, including residential leases, held between MPs and the Commonwealth, the relevant clause was narrowly interpreted by a single judge of the High Court and benefit of the legal doubt given to the Senator.

Since then, it has been the subject of criticism, and may well be overturned in the course of current proceedings. In its submissions in the current case, the Commonwealth has argued that, while Bob Day would fall foul even if the case were applied, Re Webster was too narrowly decided. Herewith the background to the original case, and its aftermath. Continue reading “Re Webster: Members of Parliament, Pecuniary Interests and Disqualification – A Background”