Time to break the glass and smash the giant red button marked ‘Section 44‘: the unusually pernicious part of our constitution is rearing its hideous head once again, this time in regards to minister for home affairs,ex-cop, and boiled egg Peter Dutton, according to a report from Ten.
The report, published this afternoon, suggests that Dutton could be breaching Section 44 by being the beneficiary of a family trust that owns two childcare centres in Brisbane. Those centres are receiving money from the Commonwealth thanks to an act of legislation that Dutton voted in favour of. This could potentially run him afoul of Section 44v:
Has any direct or indirect pecuniary interest in any agreement with the Public Service of the Commonwealth otherwise than as a member and in common with the other members of an incorporated company consisting of more than twenty-five persons:
USyd constitutional law professor Anne Twomey told Fairfax that it’s not particularly clear-cut how this would go, saying that “there is a reasonable case for his disqualification but he also has a reasonable defence“. Dutton’s camp seems pretty satisfied that he’s in the clear, with his office telling Fairfax that he has received legal advice stating that there is “clearly” no breach of Section 44.
Twomey, speaking to Ten, said that the Section 44-ing of Family First senator Bob Day showed that “an agreement held through a family trust still met the test for disqualification.“
The kicker here is that, for the matter to be resolved, it would have to be referred by Parliament to the High Court, something the government is very, very unlikely to use their majority to do. The suspicious timing of this would seem to indicate that someone in one of the Liberal Party‘s pro-Turnbull factions leaked this to stave off a leadership challenge from Dutton, but Hugh Rimington, who broke the story, has said that it’s not the product of a leak.
Obviously, there are a lot of moving parts here and it’s all a bit ‘there’s no rule in the book that says a dog can’t play basketball’, but the crux is: Dutton could well be ineligible to hold his seat in parliament, although it would take a lot of pressure for the government to get to the point that he might be given the boot for it.