CONTROVERSIAL WA Senator and ex-Williams farmer Rod Culleton has been put on notice by Senate President Stephen Parry that his brief but lively political career is all but over, following a recent bankruptcy ruling.
Last week Senator Culleton wrote to Senator Parry urging him to recall the Senate to deal with his Upper House membership status, following a bankruptcy decision against him handed down in the Federal Court in Perth on December 23.
Senator Culleton’s letter that was also sent to the media asked Senator Parry to invoke standing order 58 (b) and (c) as “a matter of urgency” to determine his status.
He said he had an appeal pending to set aside the sequestration order made against his estate that the judge accepted as valid “and refused to follow what should be binding High Court precedents put to him”.
“This is a gross miscarriage of justice, as I am not insolvent, and because the court failed to give sufficient time for argument and evidence denied procedural fairness typical of what is happening throughout Australia,” he wrote.
But today, Senator Parry issued a statement saying Senator Culleton had written to him on January 4 asking to recall the Senate, to resolve his status as a Senator following the issuing of a sequestration order against his estate - following the ruling before Christmas - but he wasn’t empowered to do so.
Senator Parry said the court had ordered a stay of all proceedings under the sequestration order, for a period of 21 days, and he understood that the order referred to any proceedings under the Bankruptcy Act 1966.
In his response to Senator Culleton, Senator Parry explained the two circumstances in which he was empowered to recall the Senate.
The first is pursuant to the Senate’s order of December 1 last year which set the next meeting for February 7 this year - but gave a discretion to the President to fix another day, he said.
That discretion which, by convention, is exercised at the request of the government of the day, for urgent government business, Senator Parry said.
Senator Parry said the second circumstance was pursuant to a request by an “absolute majority of the whole number of senators”, under standing order 55.
But he said, “I have not received any such request”.
In the letter seeking the recall, Senator Parry said Senator Culleton had suggested that the Senate had the power to determine his status, “notwithstanding the judgment of bankruptcy by a court”.
But he said the Constitution, in sections 44 and 45, was “quite clear about grounds for disqualification of serving members and senators”.
“Section 45 provides that if a member becomes subject to any of the disabilities mentioned in section 44, ‘his place shall thereupon become vacant’,” he said.
“Those grounds include being an undischarged bankrupt - disqualification follows automatically.
“No vote of the Senate is required.
“The Constitution gives no discretion to the Senate to disregard a disqualifying event.
“Nor does it give power to the Commonwealth Parliament to modify the effect of sections 44 and 45 through legislation.
“There is no statutory machinery for informing the Senate of the disability of one of its members, but practice in similar cases and comparable jurisdictions has involved a relevant official providing formal notification of the matter to the House via its presiding officer or clerk.
“I have informed Senator Culleton that if I receive such notification, I shall then notify the Governor of Western Australia, in accordance with section 21 of the Constitution, that there is a vacancy in the representation of that state.”
It’s understood Senator Parry is now awaiting formal notification from the Federal Court regarding the bankruptcy ruling before moving the matter forward which would also aid a determination on future administrative matters including financial payments.
Senator Parry said because the Senate had also referred to the Court of Disputed Returns questions about the eligibility of Rod Culleton to have been chosen as a Senator, notification of the vacancy to the WA Governor “does not end the matter”.
He said it would still be necessary for the Court of Disputed Returns to deliver its answers to the referred questions, before it would become apparent how the actual vacancy may be filled.
The same situation applies to the vacancy in South Australia caused by Bob Day’s resignation whose eligibility to have been chosen as a Senator was also the subject of a referral of questions by the Senate to the Court of Disputed Returns, he said.
The court bankruptcy ruling against Senator Culleton was based on a long-standing debt pursued by Balwyn Nominees - the company of former Wesfarmers director Dick Lester - over a soured farm property deal at Williams in south-east WA which was $280,000 in the judgement.
The High Court matter dealing with Senator Culleton’s eligibility for election is due to a larceny charge he was convicted on in his absence in a NSW Court and awaiting sentencing for at the time of the federal election last year, which carried a penalty of up to 12-months jail.
The charge, over the alleged theft of a tow-truck key, stemmed from an incident in 2014 during a vehicle repossession attempt, at Guyra in NSW, connected to Senator Culleton’s horse feed business.
The original conviction was annulled after the July 2 election but Senator Culleton then pleaded guilty to the charge and no conviction was recorded against him.
Senator Culleton’s legal team argued his case in the High Court based on the annulment removing his original conviction.
It’s understood the High Court’s judgement is reserved and the court is in recess until January 31, for its traditional summer break.
Senator Culleton is also facing court in WA over an alleged car theft linked to a heated farm protest where bank appointed receivers had their vehicle surrounded by bales of hay - which he claims to be straw - during a foreclosure proceeding on a Cuballing property in the WA Wheatbelt in March 2015.
Senator Culleton says a mention hearing has been set down for July or August on that matter and a four day trial set aside, at the end of September.
“We believe it will need to be longer because the police want to call 42 witnesses,” he said last week.
Senator Culleton was originally elected for One Nation at last year’s election but has since quit the party due to falling out with leader and founder Pauline Hanson.
Asked whether he should resign from the Senate or continue to face the courts to defend himself, Senator Culleton stood firm.
“That’s the last thing I’d do,” he said.
“If I resigned I’d be letting down too many people and why should I? I’ve done nothing wrong.
“I haven’t picked the fights (and) it’s not all about my credibility.
“These were actions that I took to save my assets, for what my wife and I worked very hard for.
“I stood up for the good of myself and to support other farmers – I have never stolen any car and I never stole a key – and the point is the key got lost in an altercation so I can’t avoid being taken to court.
“I’m not picking the fights; the fights are being picked on me.”
Senator Culleton said he was dealing with the various legal matters “in the best manner that I can” while paying for legal his fees or representing himself where possible.
“I’ve had to have a plan but also in doing that it’s been a life experience that I believe I’m certainly more educated in these areas as an Australian than what I believe a lot of senators or lower house representatives are and nothing’s ever going to take away my ability, through experience,” he said.
“Whether the Senate might say I’ve crossed the line, principles come in here.
“I want to do the right thing and the right thing, if that discredits me in the media, because I’m in and out of court – it’s the only option I have.
“It’s the only remedy that I have to get an outcome for the creditors (of my company).
“But what I have now been able to witness, through my own experience, is how broken down and what a basket case our legal system is.”