In­el­i­gi­ble Nats’ rul­ings in doubt

Countryman - - NEWS - Peter Jean and Rueben Hale

Min­is­te­rial de­ci­sions made by Barn­aby Joyce and Fiona Nash over the past 12 months could be over­turned by a court, ac­cord­ing to bomb­shell le­gal ad­vice com­mis­sioned by the La­bor Party.

For­mer deputy prime min­is­ter and agri­cul­ture min­is­ter Mr Joyce has be­gun cam­paign­ing for the De­cem­ber 2 New Eng­land by-elec­tion af­ter the High Court dis­qual­i­fied him from Par­lia­ment for hold­ing New Zealand cit­i­zen­ship at the last elec­tion.

Ms Nash lost her roles as a NSW se­na­tor, deputy Na­tion­als leader and min­is­ter for re­gional de­vel­op­ment and com­mu­ni­ca­tions af­ter be­ing ruled in­el­i­gi­ble be­cause of Bri­tish cit­i­zen­ship.

De­ci­sions made by Mr Joyce and Ms Nash since Oc­to­ber 20 last year could be legally in­valid, ac­cord­ing to bar­ris­ters Matt Al­bert and Matt Collins, QC.

Pay­ments made to water en­ti­tle­ment hold­ers in the Mur­ray-Dar­ling Basin, fund­ing un­der the $220 mil­lion mo­bile black spot pro­gram and Mr Joyce’s con­tro­ver­sial de­ci­sion to re­lo­cate the Aus­tralian Pes­ti­cides and Ve­teri­nary Medicines Au­thor­ity from Can­berra to his elec­torate, might all face chal­lenges.

Un­der the con­sti­tu­tion, a per­son can serve as a min­is­ter for up to three months with­out be­ing a mem­ber of par­lia­ment. Mr Joyce and Ms Nash were sworn in as min­is­ters on July 19 last year and there­fore au­to­mat­i­cally lost their po­si­tions on Oc­to­ber 20, ac­cord­ing to the le­gal ad­vice. De­ci­sions af­ter this time could be chal­lenged.

“Such de­ci­sions could be chal­lenged on the ba­sis that they are in­valid, be­cause the per­son mak­ing the de­ci­sion was not con­sti­tu­tion­ally able to hold of­fice as a min­is­ter at the rel­e­vant time and there­fore lacked power to make the de­ci­sion,” the ad­vice said.

But Fed­eral At­tor­ney-Gen­eral Ge­orge Bran­dis said most de­ci­sions made by the two for­mer min­is­ters since the 2016 elec­tion should be valid be­cause they were for­mally signed off by Cabi­net or the Gov­er­nor-Gen­eral.

The for­mer in­de­pen­dent MP Tony Wind­sor has ruled out con­test­ing Mr Joyce’s seat. Mr Joyce is likely to face chal­lengers from La­bor and the Greens.

Na­tional Farm­ers’ Fed­er­a­tion pres­i­dent Fiona Sim­son said Aus­tralian agri­cul­ture had few stronger ad­vo­cates than Mr Joyce.

“Mr Joyce’s pas­sion and wide-rang­ing knowl­edge of our in­dus­try has stood the farm sec­tor in good stead dur­ing his time in the min­istry,” Ms Sim­son said.

“We have also ben­e­fited from Mr Joyce’s role as deputy prime min­is­ter, through which he es­ca­lated the pro­file of agri­cul­ture and water with his Cabi­net col­leagues.

“I would also like to ac­knowl­edge the con­tri­bu­tion of Fiona Nash, who has been a pas­sion­ate ad­vo­cate for ru­ral Aus­tralians over many years.”

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