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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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”

Section 44: Is elected local government office an “office of profit under the Crown”?

The section 44 juggernaut just keeps rolling. The next substantive question likely to come before the court, as a consequence of Jacqui Lambie’s disqualification on dual citizenship grounds, is whether her likely replacement, Devonport mayor, Steve Martin, is himself disqualified, for holding an “office of profit under the Crown”, with respect to his office in local government. Martin maintains that he is on solid ground, citing advice given by the then Clerk of the Senate ahead of the 2016 election.

Indeed, history suggests he has a strong case. Continue reading “Section 44: Is elected local government office an “office of profit under the Crown”?”

Cut and Paste: One Nation Senator’s “Ethanol” Speech on Marriage Equality Bill

Observers of the Senate debate on the marriage equality were left puzzled and bemused in equal measure yesterday when Pauline Hanson One Nation Senator for NSW, Brian Burston, made a comparison between water and ethanol to argue against marriage equality.

Burston, now the second most senior PHON Senator after the departure of Malcolm Roberts, has a relatively low profile, but his party biography touts his background in trades and higher education, culminating in a four year stint at Newcastle University.

Having gone over Burston’s speech – with, if not a fine-tooth comb, then a hair brush with big bristles – I’d say he’d find himself in some difficulty if his contribution was measured against any academic integrity policy.

Just about every segment of his speech – including the notorious water/ethanol comparison – was lifted word for word or cribbed without attribution from a handful of sources. Continue reading “Cut and Paste: One Nation Senator’s “Ethanol” Speech on Marriage Equality Bill”

Section 44: Would a student loan from the Commonwealth prove grounds for disqualification?

Could the Commonwealth HELP loan scheme, that assists the vast majority of students to undertake tertiary or further education, give rise to yet another ground for disqualification under section 44 of the Constitution, which has seen 10 MPs and Senators depart the Parliament since the 2016 election, another candidate miss out on taking up a Senate seat, and a growing cloud over many more?

If it does, this might adversely affect the position of the newly elected Greens Senator for Western Australia, Jordon Steele-John, who, before taking up his seat this week, was undertaking a degree in politics by distance education at Macquarie University?

If this were found to be an issue, it would also affect the future nomination and election of students and recent graduates with student loans owing to the Commonwealth. While few students are in the box seat for winning an election, some run as minor party candidates, for the experience or to “fly” a party’s “banner” in seats where their prospects are slim. Continue reading “Section 44: Would a student loan from the Commonwealth prove grounds for disqualification?”

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”

Section 44: The Cloud Gets Thicker, With An “Office of Profit” Now In The Mix

The cloud hanging over Parliament from the spate of section 44 cases is further complicated by a scenario thrown up by the likely referral of NSW Senator Fiona Nash to the Court of Disputed Return over her possible status as a dual citizen.

Furthermore, at the directions hearing today for the first citizenship five matters referred to the High Court, Chief Justice Susan Kiefel asked the parties to consider what remedies might be appropriate with the passage of time since the last election, given that “we are not in a circumstance where we are close to an election having been held.”

This suggests argument over whether the effluxion of time might require a different solution (such as a re-run of the entire Senate election for an affected State) to the previously used method of recounting the Senate ballots as if the disqualified candidate were not present. Continue reading “Section 44: The Cloud Gets Thicker, With An “Office of Profit” Now In The Mix”

Could silent voters be denied a say in the marriage equality survey?

Update – 11 August – 1.50pm The Minister for Finance and Acting Special Minister of State (responsible for the AEC), Mathias Cormann, has tweeted to say that “Our commitment for all Australians on Electoral Roll incl silent electors to have opportunity to have their say in Marriage Law Survey. ABS will make further announcements in relation to this as soon as arrangements have been finalised.”

Update – 11 August – 11.30am – I have been told that people who have contacted the AEC today have been assured that silent electors will be sent surveys; even those who are not registered general postal voters. No particulars on the means by which this will be done – whether through the ABS or the AEC.

Could an estimated 113,000 silent electors, whose addresses do not appear on the electoral roll for personal safety reasons, be denied a say in the proposed Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) postal survey on marriage law? Continue reading “Could silent voters be denied a say in the marriage equality survey?”

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.”