Jul 13, 2018

White supremacist and convicted criminal can run for parliament: Constitution

Is a dual citizen really less eligible for parliament than someone convicted for organizing a racially motivated assassination attempt?

Charlie Lewis — Journalist

Charlie Lewis


There’s been a lot of press around Jim Saleam, founder of white nationalist group National Action,which featured several high profile far right figures, running in the Longman byelection on July 28. But should his criminal history have disqualified him from running at all?

Most of the coverage of Saleam so far centeres around the issue of preferences — One Nation have put him ahead of Labor and the Queensland Council of Unions have put election material recommending he be put ahead of the LNP.

Saleam joined the nationalist group Australia First  after being jailed for property offences, fraud and planning the attempted murder of anti-Apartheid activist and African National Congress diplomat Eddie Funde.

Saleam spent three years in prison for the gun crime.  Saleam’s history of violence and penchant for donning Nazi uniforms has been covered — what hasn’t come up is how on earth he is eligible to run for office.

Does spending time in prison disqualify Saleam from running?

Last year saw a remarkable culling of parliament due to citizenship issues. Indeed, the whole reason we’re being subjected to the spectacle in Longman and elsewhere is that Labor’s Susan Lamb is in the latest batch to stand down over her dual citizenship.

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Saleam, again, let’s be clear, spent three years in prison for suborning a shotgun attack on the home of an anti-Apartheid campaigner. Rod Culleton, meanwhile, was partly knocked off on account of some dodginess with a rented car. Culleton’s conviction for larceny — a charge that carries a sentence of more than a year — ended up being irrelevant, given his bankruptcy.  

Section 44(ii) of the Constitution disqualifies from parliament anyone “attainted by treason”, or anyone who been convicted and is under sentence, or subject to be sentenced, for a crime that carries a sentence of 12 months or more in prison.

The key phrase there is “under sentence”, Australia’s University of Sydney professor and constitutional lawyer Anne Twomey told Crikey. 

If you have served your time you are eligible again to stand,” she said. “Unless the conviction was for treason.”   

Evan Ekin-Smyth, Assistant Director of Media at Australian Electoral Commission told Crikey it wasn’t the role of the AEC to vet candidates.

“The AEC does not administer the constitution. It is up to individual candidates to declare that they are eligible under Section 44 of the constitution at the time of nomination. It is then up to electors to vote based on the information available to them,” he said.

Nor, he said, was it up to the AEC to make changes in this area:

“The constitution, of course, can only be changed by the Australian people through a referendum and there has been different commentary from both major parties about the potential to hold one and its potential to succeed. The AEC administers federal elections … This is a matter for parliament.” 


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26 thoughts on “White supremacist and convicted criminal can run for parliament: Constitution

  1. leon knight

    The main question would seem to be why didn’t Pauline accept him as a PHON candidate….he seems well qualified.

  2. Rais

    Unlike the US where they seem to think a felon should become a voteless second class citizen for life even after they have paid their debt to society, in Australia citizens are not disenfranchised although they have to be citizens only of Australia to sit in Parliament. The candidate in question should have his background publicised, then the voters can decide whether he should represent them.

    1. Kfix

      Completely with you on this one Rais. Charlie using loaded language like “what hasn’t come up is how on earth he is eligible to run for office” is a bit on the nose when you consider the alternatives.

    2. AR

      Me, three. Let him stand, or run, as long as his background is known.
      Though that might actually be a plus in some quarters.

    3. Marcus Hicks

      Big difference between “not allowed to vote” & “not allowed to sit in parliament”. Someone who did time for fraud & conspiracy to commit murder really should be ineligible to stand for office. After all, we disallow bankrupts, & I consider the former far worse.

      1. Rais

        We disallow undischarged bankrupt, Marcus. We also disallow people who are charged with serious crime until the court case is over. In a country where convicts and former convicts have played an important part we shouldn’t deny former convicts who have served their time the right to present themselves as candidates although in some cases the voters might be unlikely to elect them. Senator Hinch is an ex-convict though admittedly not guilty of any violence. I disagree with some of his views but Australia would be poorer for not having allowed him to be a candidate.

        1. Marcus Hicks

          Surely we draw the line at those who conspire to commit murder…..or at least we should? Next thing we know we’ll be allowing rapists, drug dealers, spousal abusers……

          1. Kfix

            Who is “we”, Marcus? Never heard of a wrongful conviction? Never heard of a beat-up charge to get rid of a political opponent?

            The thing about governments is, they control (to an extent, governed by institutions, which are faring so well nowadays right?) the police and the prosecutors. If you give a government sole control over who can run for parliament, what do you think might start happening to their political opponents?

            There’s all sorts of good reasons to not allow people before the courts or actually in prison to run. But to prevent them from running after they’ve served their time?

          2. Marcus Hicks

            Oh dear, KFix, is that really the best excuse you can make for letting fascist neo-Nazis, who advocate murder of people based on their race, into our parliament?
            Tolerance of the intolerant only ensures that we will end up ruled by utterly intolerant people.

          3. Kfix

            I did not make an “excuse” for “letting fascist neo-Nazis … into our parliament”.

            I made an “argument” for “letting voters decide who should be elected to parliament with minimal prescriptive intervention from the executive government”.

            You might like to look at the history of many of the authoritarian (perhaps even “facist”) regimes going around today, and further back in history, to see what use an oppressive government can make of tight eligibility rules for elected office.

  3. Marcus Hicks

    So its OK to have, in our parliament, people who have conspired to commit murder, but someone who stole a car is irredeemable?!?!
    This is yet more evidence why the whole part of the constitution relating to eligibility to sit in parliament needs a major rewrite.

  4. applet

    I think this article is criminal clickbait.

  5. TheRabidHamster

    It’s Queensland, so this nutter is on the bell curve of normality.
    He stands and if enough fellow racists contrarians want him, he wins…If not he scuttles back to whichever rock he normally lives under.

  6. kyle Hargraves

    There was a time (circa 90 odd years ago) across the British Empire when a term of imprisonment disqualified one for a pension. In other words, to qualify for a pension one had to be a “fit and proper person”; the legal wording in quotes.

    Let’s not get too picky. There is an opinion on anything at all nowadays. Some in the community argue that particular lifestyles “ought” to suffice for disqualification. If the guy is elected then so be it. That IS “democracy” nowadays. Alternatively, if the guy was disqualified then someone of similar disposition would take his place in rather short order. Such being the case there is little point in pursuing the matter.

    1. Marcus Hicks

      People who advocate for the murder of other people-based on their race-& have gone to jail for conspiring to do so-are far less deserving of being able to stand for parliament than someone jailed for mere theft……or who had the bad luck to go bankrupt. The ability of certain people to make excuses for vicious thugs like Saleam really does boggle my mind. Or is he just all paid up with his IPA Dues, so is now kosher in the eyes of the Hard Right?

      1. Kfix

        Arguing for the principle that people who have served their sentence for whatever crime should be allowed to serve in parliament is not the same as making excuses for said people. Nor do you have to be Hard Right, or even any kind of Right.

        1. Marcus Hicks

          Just so you know, Hitler spent time in jail too. Letting him stand for the Bundestag was such a great idea, don’t you think?

          1. Kfix

            How about Nelson Mandela then?

          2. Kfix

            Or Aung San Suu Kyi?

          3. Kfix

            Or John Curtin?

          4. Marcus Hicks

            Not the best comparisons there, KFix. Suu-Kyi & Mandela didn’t personally threaten and/or conspire to murder people, but Hitler & Saleam both did. Pretty sure Curtin didn’t either. Oh, but you do keep on defending fascists, as that is clearly your shtick.

          5. Kfix

            Marcus, clearly you are not answering in good faith – by accusing me of “defending fascists” when I’ve done no such thing – so I’m not going to bother replying to you after this. But I want to point out to others who might be able to see the problems with allowing a government to disqualify political rivals, that Mandela was charged with and convicted of sabotage and conspiracy to violently overthrow the government. He did actually commit those ‘crimes’, as justified as that might have been in the circumstances. Please give some thought as to how you would write a constitutional amendment (that’s what would be required) that would distinguish between someone like Mandela and a thug like Saleam in a way that a government could not abuse to get rid of an opponent.

        2. Marcus Hicks

          Letting people convicted of conspiracy to commit murder-particularly those driven by racial or religious hate-is akin to making excuses for them.

          1. Kfix

            lol no, it’s not. It’s supporting the principle that the voters are the appropriate party in the democratic process to decide who should represent them in parliament.

          2. Rais

            Marcus if anyone doesn’t want this person in Parliament it’s me. I’m an Aussie Muslim, one of his targets. But the principle that a person who has been sentenced for a crime and has completed that sentence is sound democracy. A system that goes on penalizing and punishing felons and excluding them from democratic rights is not only incomplete democracy, it’s a recipe for fuelling resentment in an individual or a group that’s already full of resentments.

          3. kyle Hargraves

            Marcus (and many others) yearn for a perfect world. If we had the “correct” legalisation and the “appropriate” politicians and the “necessary” public transport ‘what a wonderful world we would have’!

            As to his remark about Hitler had he not been imprisoned events would have unfolded as they did. I wonder if having attended a Theological College would improve the prospects of election (according to Marcus) because both both Stalin and Hitler did attend theological colleges.

            There is no “free lunch” in life Marcus! Celui qui craint d’être conquis est sûr de la défaite. (Bonaparte).

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