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”

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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”

Are They On? Has the AEC got it wrong on 16 and 17 year olds being entitled to a say in marriage equality survey?

Update: 17 August 2017  – Without conceding the argument, yesterday the Minister for Finance issued a statement and amended direction. For abundance of clarity and avoidance of doubt, the amended direction limits the postal survey to those 18 years and over at the end of 24 August.

The statement and direction followed the validation of the arguments put forward in this piece by a range of respected constitutional and electoral law academics.

 

The question of whether 16 and 17 year olds were entitled to be included in the ABS marriage equality postal survey was raised in this blog, and on Twitter, most significantly by Chris Gentle

On Friday afternoon, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) issued a statement to dismiss this possibility. Continue reading “Are They On? Has the AEC got it wrong on 16 and 17 year olds being entitled to a say in marriage equality survey?”

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.”

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”

“Some Time” Before Decision on Secret Lionel Murphy Records

After a thirty year wait, historians, lawyers, journalists and the general public will have to wait “some time” more before knowing whether they can have access to allegations put before a Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry in 1986 into the conduct of former High Court justice, Lionel Murphy.

By the time it was wound up in September 1986, the Inquiry had distinguished at least fourteen separate allegations against Murphy.

With only the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives permitted to have access to this material until now, they have authorised the Clerks of their respective chambers to see the material so they can provide advice.

The conditions imposed by statute in 1986 mean that even the Clerks have to wait until the 30 year secrecy provisions expire on Sunday before getting access. Continue reading ““Some Time” Before Decision on Secret Lionel Murphy Records”