SENATE President Stephen Parry has formally notified former One Nation Senator Rod Culleton today of his official disqualification from the Upper House in federal parliament.
In a statement, Senator Parry confirmed he’d notified the Governor of Western Australia of a new vacancy in the state’s federal political representation following a bankruptcy ruling against Mr Culleton, on December 23.
Senator Culleton – an ex-farmer from Williams in the WA Wheatbelt - was elected for One Nation at last year’s federal poll but quit the party controversially before Christmas after a major falling out with leader Pauline Hanson.
Senator Parry said further to his statement on January 9, he’d now received - from the Inspector-General in Bankruptcy and the Federal Court Registry - copies of documentation recording Mr Culleton’s status as an undischarged bankrupt as a consequence of the sequestration order issued by the Federal Court, on December 23 last year.
That ruling was due to a long-standing action taken against Mr Culleton for a debt related to a property deal at Williams, for $280,000, made by former Wesfarmers director Dick Lester’s company Balwyn Nominees.
Senator Parry said Section 45 of the Constitution provided that a member or Senator’s place ‘thereupon’ becomes vacant if that member or Senator becomes subject to any of the disabilities mentioned in Section 44, which include being an undischarged bankrupt.
“It is a necessary and automatic consequence of the declaration of bankruptcy of a serving Senator, that his place as a Senator becomes vacant,” he said.
“Having received the necessary documentation of the facts from relevant officials, I have informed Senator Culleton and notified the Governor of Western Australia, Her Excellency the Honourable Kerry Sanderson AC, in accordance with section 21 of the Constitution, that there is a vacancy in the representation of that state as a consequence of the disqualification of Senator Culleton.
“I have also advised party leaders and independent senators of this development.”
Senator Parry said as foreshadowed in his earlier statement, “this does not end the matter”.
He said the Senate had referred to the Court of Disputed Returns questions about Mr Culleton’s eligibility to have been chosen as a Senator.
Senator Parry said it would be necessary for the Court of Disputed Returns to deliver its answers to the referred questions before it would become apparent how the vacancy may be filled.
He said the same situation applied to the vacancy in South Australia caused by the resignation of Bob Day 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.
These matters will be reported to the Senate in full when it meets on February 7, 2017, he said.
Mr Culleton said, in a reply to Senator Parry that he’d been given very sound legal advice that the letter asserting he was currently bankrupt and therefore disqualified to sit as a Senator, was premature and “should be withdrawn immediately”, while a 21-day stay order remains in place.
“I would also like to inform you that I am solvent and proof of that has been filed and evidence before the court,” he said.
“My application has already been filed, along with an appeal to extend the period of stay pending the hearing and determination of the appeal of the orders made against me by (Justice) Barker within the window of the 21-day stay period.
“Part of the above application is to extend the stay period in order to have the appeal heard.
“The letter should be withheld or if not withdrawn pending the outcome of the appeal.”
Mr Culleton said there was also an application to be filed in the High Court sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns tomorrow, regarding another matter concerning “yourself and that in the event you as the President refuse to withdraw the letter”.
“I may be left with no option but to join you in the High Court application,” he said.
“This would be in the original jurisdiction of the High Court and within my rights.
“All my rights and remedies are reserved.”
Last week Mr Culleton wrote to Senator Parry urging him to recall the Senate to deal with his Upper House membership status, following the bankruptcy ruling - but it was rejected, with the Liberal Tasmanian saying he wasn’t empowered to do so.
His short political career - after promising during the election campaign to push a banking Royal Commission if elected, to investigate serious issues with farm-debt - has been marred by ongoing controversy and regular court appearances.
The High Court matter dealing with Mr Culleton’s election eligibility stems from a larceny charge he was convicted on in his absence, in a NSW Court, and awaiting sentencing for, when he signed his nomination form, 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 the ex-farmer’s horse feed business.
The original conviction was annulled after the July 2 election but Mr Culleton then pleaded guilty to the charge and no conviction was recorded against him.
It’s understood the High Court’s judgement is reserved and the court is in recess until January 31, for its traditional summer break.
Mr Culleton is also facing court in WA over an alleged car theft linked to a 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.
He said earlier this week that 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.
He also said the last thing he would do was resign from the Senate.
“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,” her said.
“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.
“Whether the Senate might say I’ve crossed the line, principles come in here,” he said.
“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.”
Senator Hanson said on Twitter, “If a casual vacancy is declared because of Rod Culleton's disqualification I have already chosen a great person to replace him in the Senate”.