Dutton’s Facing More Pressure Over His Potential Section 44 Breach

Politics! When will it end? Probably in the near future when rising sea levels and increasingly erratic weather patterns force us into a Mad Max-ian hellscape of V8s and crossbows. This week, however, the end seems distant and impossible. The politics just refuses to stop happening. Yesterday, Malcolm Turnbull narrowly survived a leadership spill hastily called to pre-empt a mutiny lead by Peter Dutton and today we’re already dealing with the build-up to another one that is likely to be much more successful for Dutton.

Lost in all this was the scoop dropped by Ten in the far distant past of, uh, Monday this week. An investigation into the pecuniary (I am using this word with a lot of confidence for someone who doesn’t know what it means) interests of MPs found that cop asshole and former Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton might be in breach of Section 44v of the constitution.

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Section 44 is likely the only section of the constitution that anyone knows anything about, being the one that took down an extraordinary number of members of parliament after people started digging up their birth certificates. What makes this one different is that 44v doesn’t refer to citizenship or allegiances, it relates to ministers having business interests that receive money from the commonwealth.

Ten’s investigation found that a family trust that Dutton is party to owns two childcare centres in Brisbane that, as of early July, started receiving direct subsidies from the government.

One of the constitutional law experts that spoke to Ten has said that basically both sides have a good case to be made here, and it’s very difficult to guess in advance how the High Court would rule on this. That’s sort of neither here nor there at this stage because, for the High Court to rule on this, parliament would have to vote for Dutton’s case to be referred to the High Court, which is almost definitely not going to happen.

Dutton’s office has said that he has received legal advice to the effect that he is completely in the clear, but we might get a little bit more clarity around it soon, with Sky News reporting that the matter is being referred to the Solicitor-General for legal advice.

If it is referred to the Solicitor-General and they find it to be reasonably likely that he’s in breach of Section 44v, it won’t automatically mean that he gets the boot, but it will put pretty substantial pressure on the government to make the referral to the High Court that would be necessary to determine his fate.

Under interrogation from Labor during Question Time today, Turnbull said that advice had not been sought at this time, whether that means it’s not being referred at all I leave up to your good judgment.

Tony Abbott, who seems fundamentally incapable of stopping his jaw from working, weighed in on 2GB, saying that Turnbull should have dismissed the accusations out of hand:

Given that this question of Section 44 eligibility of Peter Dutton was raised in the Senate, 12 months or so back, and given there is QC’s advice that he is absolutely in the clear, I just thought it was very strange that today the prime minister didn’t simply say that this matter has been considered, there’s QC advice that Peter Dutton’s advice is that he is absolutely in the clear.

Anne Twomey, the constitutional expert consulted by Ten when the possible breach was unearthed, told the Guardian that she welcomed a referral to the Solicitor-General as a part of figuring this mess out.

We are by no means constitutional law experts and any predictions from us about how this is going to go would be worth just shy of absolutely nothing, but the funniest possible way this could play out is that Dutton wins his second leadership challenge, then is immediately afterwards found to be ineligible by the High Court and given the boot. Imagine. Imagine!