Labor’s High Court challenge to David Gillespie’s eligibility to be elected to Parliament could be seen as an act of vengeance on Tony Abbott regarding his actions as then-opposition leader during the minority government under Julia Gillard.
Labor this morning agreed to proceed with a High Court challenge to the Turnbull government assistant health minister and Nationals MP for Lyne’s eligibility under section 44 of the constitution, as first reported by Fairfax. The issue is similar to the one that cost former Family First senator Bob Day his seat late last year.
Gillespie owns a small shopping centre in Port Macquarie. Within this shopping centre is a shop rented out by an Australia Post licensee. The question is whether Gillespie — as a result of the rent paid to him via this Australia Post licensee — has an indirect interest in the Commonwealth (because Australia Post is a government-owned business).
Acting Labor leader Tanya Plibersek said today that Labor had written to Attorney-General George Brandis several times about the potential conflict of interest. Labor first raised the issue back in February, and then after the Day case was decided and Labor believed that the “legal groundwork changed” as a result of Day being turfed.
“They are refusing to examine any conflict of interest, and they are even refusing to respond to Labor’s correspondence on whether there is a conflict of interest,” she said.
Plibersek said that while the government rushed to the courts to determine the eligibility of two crossbench senators, the Coalition seemed much more reluctant to test Gillespie’s case because it could threaten the one-seat majority the Turnbull government has in the House of Representatives.
Labor sought legal advice and after legal advice has decided to take the matter to the High Court. The High Court will be able to decide whether to hear the case or not.
In an estimates hearing in May, Attorney-General George Brandis said that Gillespie had sought independent legal advice from Sydney barrister Guy Reynolds, SC. Brandis refused to release the advice, but said that it was Brandis’ own view that there wasn’t a section 44 issue here because of the indirectness of the interest.
The matter is a return to the pre-2013 days, with a government on a razor-thin majority clinging to power as much as it can while the opposition looks for any way to challenge it. Before the break, Labor managed to get Nationals MP George Christensen to cross the floor on a vote on penalty rates, and now the party is looking for other weaknesses in the government’s majority with Gillespie, just as Abbott did with Craig Thomson, and when Peter Slipper quit the LNP to sit as an independent and become the speaker in the House of Representatives to give Labor one extra vote on the floor of Parliament.