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.

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.”