If Family First Senator Bob Day had just moved into Don Farrell’s old office in 2014, the government would not need to take the issue of his eligibility to be elected in July to the High Court.
As Bernard Keane notes elsewhere today, the government had been warned as early as 2014 about potential issues with Day’s former ownership of his Kent Town office and his close ties to its new owner. Now the High Court is set to determine Day’s eligibility as a senator given a potential conflict with the constitution around “a potential indirect pecuniary interest in a contract with the Commonwealth”.
Documents released under freedom of information and reported by Crikey way back in May this year showed Day insistent he be allowed to use his existing Kent Town premises, which the senator described as the “conservative hub of Adelaide”, rather than a Gilles street address vacated by Labor senator Don Farrell.
Finance had objected for a number of reasons, including because Day still owned the premises. He said he would transfer ownership if the government allowed him to have his office there. The other reason was generally the department prefers to keep the offices it already has leased unless they are too far away from where the senator wants — in this case it was less than five kilometers away.
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In an email to the Department of Finance in January 2014, Day complained Farrell’s office was “difficult to find and parking is a problem. I can understand why Senator Farrell may wish to have an office close to South Terrace in order to be near his party but this does not suit my needs.”
Day said constituents don’t like going into the Adelaide CBD because traffic was a problem and parking was expensive, whereas in Kent Town “parking is plentiful and free”. The Gilles Street location would also add another 15 minutes to Day’s 30-minute commute, the senator complained.
Finance wasn’t buying it and told then-special minister of state Michael Ronaldson not to agree to Day’s demands, but by October 2014, Ronaldson had relented on the basis that the Commonwealth not pay rent on the Kent Town office until the Gilles Street office lease was up in August of this year. The government would then begin paying rent on the place until the end of June 2020. In 2014, Day sold the premises to an associate at Fullarton Investments before the agreement was made.
The government also required that Day pay out of his own pocket for expenses to make the office meet Commonwealth standards around accessibility, moving furniture and the alarm systems over from the Gilles Street office, and the installation of the connection to the parliamentary IT network.
Day’s parliamentary expenses from the second half of 2014 onwards still contain thousands of costs claimed for office fit-outs. Crikey has sought to clarify with the department if this is related to Day’s Kent Town office.
It appears that when the lease on the Gilles Street premises ended and the government was to commence paying rent on the Kent Town office, it again raised red flags about the appropriateness of Day’s ties to the ownership of the premises.
Incidentally, now that Don Farrell is back in the Senate, and the lease is up on his former offices, his new office is on Gilles Street, but five doors down from the location Day deemed just not right.