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”

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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”

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”