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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How the Australian High Court Came to be Nauru’s Court of Appeal: A History

The decision of Nauru to bring to an end its relationship with Australia’s High Court, as the ultimate appeals authority for a limited class of cases, marks the end of a 50 year history in which Nauru made strenuous efforts to have access to the Court, only to suffer tepid and lukewarm acceptance, and delays (and on one occasion, defeat) in achieving its aim of having  access to an appeals court of sufficient stature to instil confidence in the judicial proceedings of a small, fledgling nation.

The ten year history of negotiations for an appeals court is detailed in a series of volumes held in the National Archives of Australia. This history is drawn from that rich vein of material. Continue reading “How the Australian High Court Came to be Nauru’s Court of Appeal: A History”

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”

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”?”

Membership of Political Parties in NSW: 2014 – 2017

As part of the electoral disclosure regime in NSW, registered political parties are required to disclose funds raised from membership fees and subscriptions.

The following sets out the membership numbers for the years 2014-17 reported to the NSW Electoral Commission by each party represented in the NSW Parliament since 2015. Continue reading “Membership of Political Parties in NSW: 2014 – 2017”

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?”

Can Hollie Hughes Get Past the High Court’s “Brutal Literalism”?

“[the vacancy caused by Robert Wood’s disqualification] can be filled by completing the election after a recount of the ballot papers” (Re Wood, 1988)

“… s 44(i) applies until the completion of the electoral process” (Re Canavan & Ors, 2017)

With those words delivered separately across nearly thirty years, the High Court has possibly put paid to Hollie Hughes’ hopes of becoming a Senator for NSW. Continue reading “Can Hollie Hughes Get Past the High Court’s “Brutal Literalism”?”

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”