“Has it got legs?”
That’s the question One Nation Senator Rod Culleton posed to the High Court on Monday morning concerning Attorney-General George Brandis’ argument questioning Culleton’s eligibility to be elected to the Senate on July 2 this year.
Culleton will have his day in the High Court in early December after a shambolic directions hearing.
There was no belly-fleece on his head, but Culleton was true to his word in representing himself before the High Court, dressed in a smart blue jacket, cream-coloured pants and brown boots. The question before the court is whether the Western Australian senator was eligible to be elected considering he had a conviction for stealing a car key at the time, which was later annulled.
It seems almost redundant to describe the scene as like something out of The Castle, but in this respect, Culleton is both Darryl Kerrigan and Dennis Denuto.
“I am in legal deficit, although I am learning quick,” Culleton told Chief Justice Robert French several times during the hearing.
For the High Court, the case is very matter-of-fact. It is considering section 44 (ii) of the constitution and whether Culleton being convicted of a crime at that time of his election prevented him from being eligible to be elected. French said it was a constitutional issue.
“Well, let us not talk about the constitution, your honour,” Culleton replied.
“Well, we are talking about the constitution really,” French responded.
But for Culleton, it is a question of character.
“I wanted to personally keep myself in good character because I am actually not a bad bloke really. So I have done everything to do that.” Culleton told French. ” I can cop a civil bash but when it is criminal that is personal and it really cuts deep”
He was always deeply respectful for the High Court as an institution, which surprised some in the room given he has devoted much of his time to questioning the validity of the entire High Court.
Culleton said Brandis “has grabbed a sow’s ear to make a silk purse” out of the constitutional issue, and at one point said he had “popped the question” to Brandis, seeking financial assistance for his case. The government is considering the request but hasn’t made a decision.
Culleton pushed for more time, wanting the case to be heard sometime next year. Christmas was coming up, and Culleton indicated his “piggybank” might not have the finances to cope with the case.
“We have got Christmas coming up and I need to financially rehydrate my piggy bank because it has got damaged over the last few months.”
The High Court, however, said there needed to be a balance between Culleton’s personal situation and the public interest. Ultimately, French decided that while Culleton might not have “the artillery” — Culleton’s words — of the Attorney-General at his disposal to fight the case, it was in the interest of the public to have the matter resolved before Parliament returned in February next year.
The case will be heard in early December. In light of the potential precedent of the case, French said that if Culleton were unable to hire experienced counsel to represent him by the end of November, then Brandis would be required to appoint an amicus curiae — a senior counsel, who is not a party to the action, but has a background in constitutional law — to independently argue the case for Culleton’s validity to be elected to the Senate while the Attorney-General argued against it. Culleton wasn’t convinced that anyone appointed by the government would be impartial.
“Wouldn’t that be sleeping with the enemy?” Culleton asked, adding that he found it difficult to find lawyers who were friendly to One Nation.
In one final plea, Culleton asked if maybe he could just give Brandis a hug to make it all go away. French said he didn’t want to speak about Culleton’s personal relationships.
Outside the court, as the press pack waited for the senator, we were diverted to a side entrance, where Bob Katter rocked up in a Comm car, with his aviators and trademark hat. He was there to support Culleton. Rumours persist that Culleton could jump ship to Katter’s Australia Party, but Katter insisted Culleton “wasn’t a rat” and wouldn’t join his party unless One Nation betrayed him.
When Culleton finally made his appearance, he said he wasn’t a rat because he didn’t have whiskers. He also insisted that he should get a jury trial and might seek to appeal the amount of time he has been given to prepare his case.