A HEARING will be held next Friday to determine whether an appeal can be allowed on the Federal Court’s bankruptcy decision against former One Nation WA Senator and ex-farmer Rod Culleton.
A hearing held today via video link between Perth and Sydney extended the stay order against the sequestration of Mr Culleton’s estate, following the bankruptcy decision handed down by the court on December 23 against him and his company Elite Grains.
That ruling triggered Mr Culleton’s disqualification from the federal Upper House, as per the constitution, after formal correspondence from Senate President Stephen Parry which included writing to the Governor of Western Australia saying a vacancy now existed in the state’s political representation.
The bankruptcy was brought on by former Wesfarmers director Dick Lester’s claim to recover a $280,000 debt over a land lease and sale arrangement and sale of oats that went sour in early 2010 between him and his former farm-neighbour.
Today, Mr Lester did not oppose an application to extend the stay order which was originally allowed for 21 days, and then extended for a week on January 12, to hear Mr Culleton’s appeal in Perth on Friday January 27.
The order made today by Chief Justice Allsop said the expedited appeal to be heard next week would “be the question whether the appeal should be allowed and whether the sequestration order and any associated order as to costs should be set aside”.
“For the avoidance of doubt, if the appeal is allowed and if the sequestration order is set aside, any further consideration of the question of whether the appellant is or was on 23
December 2016 solvent or of whether the creditor’s petition is an abuse of process and whether or not the creditor’s petition should be dismissed will not be heard on 27 January 2017,” it said.
Mr Culleton issued a statement saying Senator Parry “has a lot to answer for” following today’s decision.
It said from a Sydney courtroom, Chief Justice Leslie Allsop had declared “that if Senator Culleton was to win the appeal, the bankruptcy conviction would be set aside which means it never happened”.
“This shows that declaring my seat vacant was a premature move by Senator Parry and this now needs to be heard by the Senate,” he said.
“I believe the President of the Senate has usurped powers without consulting or getting approval from the Senate.
“At all material times Senator Parry has ignored correspondence from my lawyers to whereby they stated that any action taken by anyone would be prejudicial and damaging and could hinder the outcome of the appeal due to it being very public.”
Senator Parry has declined to comment on Mr Culleton’s media statement.
Mr Culleton said Senator Parry had declined to heed the written warnings of his lawyers regarding the stay order.
“I am not going anywhere as a Senator of federal parliament until it’s fully vented and determined by the court and a court order clearly tells me to do so and that might be from the High Court because clearly this is a constitutional issue,” he said.
“These premature actions have branded me as bankrupt, when I’m clearly not and left me fighting for my life in the judiciary system against the big boys.
“I pride myself as an honourable business man but these actions have been very damaging and have publically disgraced me in the wider community which is disgusting.”
At the weekend, Mr Culleton said on Twitter, “The attempted removal of me from the Senate is a clear case of premature eject-ulation by the gov't, through the head of the Senate”.
On Twitter earlier this week he also said, “The injustice I’m facing now is a kneejerk reaction to my achievements, by nervous individuals and corporations”.
He also accused One Nation leader Pauline Hanson and WA Premier Colin Barnett of “fighting for my seat like political seagulls over hot chips”.
“I'll be keeping my seat until the courts decide,” he said.
Mr Culleton’s Senate replacement will also be guided by a decision to be handed down in the High Court later this month, in ruling on a referral by the Senate late last year.
That matter was looking at whether he was eligible to stand for last year’s federal election due to being convicted at the time and facing sentencing for a larceny charge that was later annulled.
On Facebook he also changed his title to describe himself as “Rod Culleton - “Senator” for WA - Gone Fishin’,” today.
His Facebook page said, “Due to being threatened with another criminal offence, that being “jail time” for “impersonating a Commonwealth Official” and continuing to serve people throughout Australia who need urgent help, I have had to go legal fishin’ for a little while so that the government does not have another excuse to attack me or get rid of me”.
“I am not bankrupt and am solvent – I will fight on,” he said.
The statement came in response to concerns raised about the legality of an online crowd funding campaign that’s seeking to raise $100,000 to assist with Mr Culleton’s legal fees – that as of 5pm today had $1880 in pledges.
“Senator Culleton is under personal attack because he has dared to ‘challenge the banks’,” it said.
“Along the way, he has exposed a dysfunctional legal system that is expensive, inefficient, and worryingly divorced from justice and open to manipulation.
“Senator Culleton is a brave and honest man who has tirelessly worked for farmers and others who have been trapped in horrendous circumstances due to the corrupt and fraudulent deeds of others.”
Correspondence from Senator Parry’s office to Maitland Lawyers regarding matters relating to Mr Culleton, said documentation had been received - from the Federal Court and Inspector-General in Bankruptcy - indicating that Mr Culleton had become an undischarged bankrupt on December 23 last year and the President had taken steps required of him, under the constitution, regarding notification of a vacancy.
“You may wish to draw Mr Culleton’s attention to Division 148 of the Criminal Code Act 1995, about the impersonation of Commonwealth public officials, by non-officials, and Division 149, about the obstruction of Commonwealth public officials.”
Spokesperson Bobby Whithorne said the campaign did not violate GoFundMe's terms of service and any funds raised are transferred to the campaign organiser.
It was also revealed today that a Queensland beef producer Nolene Bradshaw had lodged an affidavit saying she was willing to transfer funds when required into a trust account of Maitland Lawyers, for Mr Culleton, to settle Mr Lester’s claim.
In December, Ms Bradshaw posted on Facebook to a page titled, ‘The Culley Gang - Culleton's Support Team’, saying “Rodney, we’ve got your back”.
“Some days ago, it was brought to our attention that there is an urgent need to raise funds, to enable Senator Culleton to defend his constitutional rights as a citizen of the Commonwealth of Australia,” the post said.
“Last week we formed a steering committee and are in the process of opening a ‘Trust Account’ where you will be able to support Senator Culleton and help him defend his ‘Rights’ and the ‘Rights’ of all fellow Australians.
“The process of opening a ‘Trust Account,’ is not happening quickly enough, there is always steps to take.
“For those people who can trust us and who are keen to support Senator Culleton, we are looking for FUNDS NOW - Senator Culleton faces court tomorrow.”
The post provided details of an account at the Bendigo Bank to deposit funds for the defence campaign.
It’s understood if the appeal is allowed to be heard, it would require a full hearing before a single judge of the Federal Court, to address the solvency and abuse of process claims.
However, it’s also believed no new evidence can be adduced and Mr Culleton would be held to his claim, at the December 19 hearing, that he had sufficient funds in trust, to prove his solvency.
At that court hearing in Perth, Geoff Abbott - who appeared for the petitioning creditor, Balwyn Nominees, while Mr Culleton represented himself - said there was no material before the court that indicated Mr Culleton was solvent.
“He doesn’t bring anything to indicate the level of his assets or his liabilities,” he said.
“He raises by assertion only in the letter from Maitland Lawyers and in the affidavit of Mr Maitland himself where it’s said that there’s a certain amount of funds that are held on trust, but there’s no indication of the quantity of those funds.
“There’s no indication of the source of those funds.
“So, your Honour, in short, there’s no material before the court that indicates any question of solvency at all on the part of Senator Culleton.”
But Mr Culleton said in reply, “I object to that, your Honour”.
“I stand here before you as a Senator for Parliament under oath and I tell you if a letter has come from my lawyer, there is substantial funds to extinguish this petition held in trust of a lawyer’s account,” he said.
“I totally object to Mr Abbott saying where do those funds come from?
“That’s none of his business.
“They’re my funds and they are - and at all material times, I’ve had four companies and I’ve got one company that’s sitting on a 30 multi-million dollar court order and I haven’t executed it yet.
“So I’m okay.
“My wife and I are very fine.
“We just need to start sorting some of these things out.”
Queensland independent MP Bob Katter stood up for Mr Culleton saying One Nation may have started off the “Killing of Culleton” but the Liberal Party was, “trying to finish the job”.
“The Liberals are doing exactly the same job on Senator Culleton that they did on Pauline Hanson herself,” he said.
“It’s becoming clear now that the Liberals with the support of One Nation moved at lightning speed to bankrupt Senator Culleton and in my opinion, stand him down from the Senate.
“The President of the Senate with the support of One Nation has taken away Senator Culleton’s most basic rights to appeal.”
Today’s orders also dismissed an oral application – by the respondent - for security of costs on the appeal.
It also said there would be no public access to the court file in respect of affidavits filed on the appeal and not yet read.
“If any access is sought by the public to the file at first instance or the submissions on the appeal or the transcript of any hearing at first instance or appeal, such access be granted,” it said.