The High Court has ruled out Liberal Hollie Hughes as a replacement for former Nationals senator Fiona Nash on the ground that she had an office of profit under the Crown during the election period.
Once again, the court has taken a very literalist approach to the Constitution. Hughes was appointed to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal this year but quit immediately after the court declared Nash ineligible to sit in parliament because she had been a dual British citizen when she nominated.
Hughes’ problem was that the election period is considered to extend until the seat is filled. The court did not accept the argument of Commonwealth Solicitor-General Stephen Donaghue that “the process of choice ends with the poll”.
Hughes was the next candidate on the Coalition joint ticket for New South Wales for the 2016 election and was set to get the position on the recount. The seat is now expected to go to Jim Molan, the following candidate on the ticket.
There would be some irony in his election because he had been pushed to an unwinnable position on the ticket, but still managed to get more than 10,000 votes personally.
Molan, a former senior military officer, was key in the shaping of the Coalition’s border protection policy.
He has been one of those at the forefront of the move within the NSW Liberal division to get a more democratic structure. He has put himself forward as a candidate for state president when the party’s state council meets in December to consider reforms that were passed by a rank-and-file convention earlier this year.
Molan said late on Wednesday that it was too early to say much about the Senate seat beyond “I believe I am eligible and I would take the job if it were offered”. He had no citizenship problems nor did he have any office of profit under the Crown, he said.
But just before he walked into the chamber to be sworn in, Anning flagged he would sit as an independent.
Anning later declared he had not left One Nation – it was Hanson who had kicked him out.
The setback for Hanson comes as One Nation’s vote is apparently surging in the Queensland election. Polling published in The Courier-Mail at the weekend showed strong support for One Nation in various regional and urban fringe seats with a vote of more than 20% in some, although it would not have won any of the seats on the figures.
The Anning defection follows weeks of tension with Hanson and her adviser James Ashby, and a bitter clash at the One Nation party meeting on Monday morning.
Hanson said in a statement that before the High Court decision she had tried to speak with Anning while he was overseas, but her efforts “fell on deaf ears”. She’d had to communicate through his brother Harry instead.
She had indicated to Harry Anning “that given the work Malcolm Roberts had achieved as chair of the banking inquiry and his role in challenging climate change, it would be in the federal party’s and Australia’s best interests” for him to be returned to the Senate.
Anning had made no attempt to contact her or any One Nation executive members after multiple requests to discuss his plans, she claimed – something Anning disputes. “Instead he chose to release scathing media releases demanding I pledge my support to him without even meeting or speaking to him,” she said.
The statement said Anning only spoke with Hanson on Monday morning “but those talks quickly failed when she refused to allow several Anning staff into the party meeting. The staffers had formerly worked for Roberts and she would not have them at the meeting “because of their disloyalty to their former employer and myself.”
Anning then walked out of the meeting.
One Nation senators Brian Burston and Peter Georgiou sought to mediate, but they were told “only minutes before he was sworn into the Senate” that Anning would sit as an independent, Hanson’s statement said.
Anning had a different version. He said he had been verbally attacked in the partyroom. “This was profoundly shocking to me as I had been a friend and supporter of Pauline for over 20 years … the attack was so vitriolic that I was obliged to simply walk out.”
He said Burston and Georgiou had told him Hanson demanded he not employ the staffers – he had said this was unacceptable. He believed these demands were actually coming from Ashby, “who had previously conducted a witch-hunt against anyone he thought supported me, and it was he who had turned Pauline against me”.
At the last minute, Anning’s office asked Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm and the Australian Conservatives’ Cory Bernardi to escort him for the swearing in, which his One Nation colleagues had been due to do. Anning said Hanson had told the One Nation senators not to do so.
“The next thing I knew, I saw on the TV that I had supposedly become an independent. This was news to me!
“It seems that without even contacting me, Pauline has unilaterally kicked me out of her party,” he said. “I have to say I’m stunned.” He said it was “simply false” to say he’d left One Nation. “If I’m no longer a One Nation senator, it is because Pauline has expelled me by press release.”
Hanson’s statement said she believed former employees of Roberts contacted Anning several months ago, encouraging him to move to Bernardi’s party if Roberts lost his seat.
She said before Roberts came under the citizenship cloud she had asked Anning to contest the state seat of Gladstone, but he dismissed the request on the grounds he and his wife were moving permanently to the US.
Leyonhjelm said Anning told him on their way into the chamber that he wouldn’t be sitting as a One Nation senator.
He had been aware of the tensions earlier but had been told by a One Nation senator at the weekend that all was well with Anning.
Asked if Anning might join the Liberal Democrats Leyonhjelm said he had not spoken to him about that. Anning would have to be comfortable with the party, he said.
Roberts is running for a seat in the Queensland election.
The Senate, bordering on the farcical all year, has finally descended into burlesque, with the tale of the bright young cabinet minister whose mum made him a son of her parents’ old country.
Before the strange case of the Nationals’ Matthew Canavan burst into public view, the Senate had already lost four of its number, under various parts of the Constitution’s Section 44, including the Greens’ two co-deputies within a week.
And then there’s been the media chase after One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts, in pursuit of documents to back his assertion he didn’t hold British citizenship when he nominated for the Senate.
Canavan’s story of how he was signed up for Italian citizenship – unknown to him, he says – by his Australian-born mother of Italian heritage, is as bizarre as they come.
It’s anyone’s guess whether the High Court will find he’s in breach of Section 44, which rules out dual citizens standing for parliament.
There are differences here with the circumstances of the two Greens, who were born overseas and hadn’t quashed their other citizenship, making their ineligibility clearer cut. Neither chose to dispute the situation.
Legal experts are unsure what the High Court may conclude on Canavan. There are also claims and counter-claims of what one is required, or not required, to do to become Italian.
So, it is not surprising the government has decided to fight for Canavan, who has resigned as a minister while his parliamentary status is determined.
For the Nationals, the stakes are particularly high and complicated.
If Canavan were found ineligible to have been elected, there’d be a countback, with his replacement being Joanna Lindgren, a former senator who lost in 2016. Lindgren is a grand-niece of the late Neville Bonner, the first Indigenous person elected to federal parliament.
A Liberal when she was a senator, Lindgren would likely find herself in the Nationals’ partyroom.
Where she sat would not be her decision but that of the Queensland Liberal National Party. The two parties are merged in that state, though they’re sharp-elbowed bedfellows, who break into their separate tribes once in Canberra. It is understood the LNP would not allow the loss of Canavan to disrupt the present balance of numbers coming out of Queensland.
Until the court case is decided – by year’s end on the optimistic assessment – Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce is acting in Canavan’s resources and northern Australia portfolio.
This will overload Joyce, who already looks under strain, this week making injudicious comments about the alleged theft of water by irrigators. Even if Canavan survives, his immediate absence from cabinet is a blow to Joyce, because he provides policy heft.
If the case goes against Canavan, Joyce would face a dilemma in who to elevate to cabinet.
The most obvious choice, on seniority and experience, would be the only National in the outer ministry: Small Business Minister Michael McCormack. But McCormack is from New South Wales. The Nationals would be desperate to keep up their representation from Queensland, a vital state for them, and the Coalition generally, at the election.
Queenslander Keith Pitt is an assistant minister, but his critics say he’s been difficult rather than supportive in that role. Then you get to backbenchers such as senator Barry O’Sullivan, based in Toowoomba, and David Littleproud, from the regional seat of Maranoa.
Littleproud is spoken of as a man with a future, but is a newcomer. There are wildly opposite views on O’Sullivan, a one-time detective and later businessman, whose performances with Senate committee witnesses can resemble the tougher side of police interrogation. His critics think he should be bumped from the Senate ticket at the next opportunity; his admirers believe he could be cabinet material.
The High Court decision on Canavan will at least provide clarity on a more obscure aspect of the dual citizenship ban.
Inevitably, however, the slew of actual or potential victims of Section 44 has led to calls for constitutional change.
There are arguments for and against the dual citizenship prohibition but convenience should not be included. Notwithstanding the peculiar Canavan situation, surely aspiring politicians should be able to ascertain if they have a foreign citizenship.
On the question of substance, some argue that in a multicultural community there should not be a requirement to relinquish citizenship of another country. There is the counter argument – which I think is more compelling – that the single allegiance is a reasonable condition to impose on those responsible for making national decisions.
Dual citizenship could throw up perceived conflicts of interest – for example, for trade or foreign ministers.
Two other parts of the wide-ranging Section 44 claiming victims this year relate to having a direct or indirect pecuniary interest in an agreement with the Commonwealth, designed to prevent corruption and conflicts of interest, and being “under sentence, or subject to be sentenced” for an offence carrying a year or more imprisonment.
The eligibility of a House of Representatives Nationals MP, David Gillespie, an assistant minister, is being challenged in the High Court by Labor on the ground of having an indirect pecuniary interest, because of a post office located within a shopping centre owned by a company in which he is a shareholder.
In 1977 Malcolm Fraser won a change to Section 15 of the Constitution to ensure a casual Senate vacancy is filled by a member of the same party. This followed shenanigans by a couple of conservative state governments in filling vacancies in the Whitlam government’s time.
That change was simple and demonstrably the right thing to do. In contrast, an attempt to alter the dual citizenship ban – and indeed any other qualification rule in Section 44 – would be more contested. That, and today’s generally negative electoral mood, would likely doom any referendum.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Ike it has been revealed that in the coastal town of Gilchrist in Galveston County, Texas, there remains one single home still standing. The home that remains is that of Warren and Pam Adams.
The Adams family were obviously overjoyed to see that their home remained standing after the hurricane had passed, but were obviously very sad that the remainder of the town had been destroyed.
The house was in fact a replacement house built in 2006 for one that had been destroyed by Hurricane Rita in 2005. This replacement house stood 19 feet above the ground, allowing it to survive the fury of Hurricane Ike and its tremendous storm surge that washed away all the other homes in Gilchrist.