Councillors not in ‘office of profit’

Steve Martin – Senate bound

Australia’s High Court has said that mayors and other councillors are eligible to stand for state and federal parliaments, ruling that they do not hold ‘an office of profit under the Crown’.

The judgement came with a unanimous decision by the Court in a case brought by One Nation against Devonport mayor Steve Martin, who replaced Jacqui Lambie as a Senator from Tasmania after Ms Lambie resigned over citizenship concerns.

A solicitor for One Nation’s Kate McCulloch, who would have been in line for the seat if Mr Martin was ruled ineligible, said that Mayor Martin’s appointment would breach section 44(iv) of the Australian Constitution.

It is section 44(i) of the Constitution regarding ‘allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power’ that has attracted the most attention recently, but section 44(iv) has

The entire section 44 has been criticised as being poorly worded and in need of updating. Section (ii) deals members’ ineligibility because of criminal convictions, section (iii) with members’ bankruptcy or insolvency, and section (v) with members having a ‘pecuniary interest in an agreement with the Commonwealth’. All have been used on occasion to disqualify sitting members.

The High Court has previously judged that the definition of ‘office of profit’ includes teachers in state schools and other public servants, but it has now ruled that local councillors are exempt, as they are elected by the people and the Crown had no influence over their appointment.

Section 44 has become a serious issue since the start of the citizenship imbroglio, which has seen nine MPs, including Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, excluded from Parliament after doubts emerged about their citizenship.

Steve Martin has been mayor of Devonport, on Tasmania’s north coast, since 2011. Also in the Senate will be former Tourism Minister and Senator Richard Colbeck, defeated in the 2016 election, who will return to the Senate as a replacement after the Liberals’ Senator Stephen Parry resigned in November 2017 over the citizenship issue. Mr Colbeck is also from Devonport.

The ruling clarifies what has been for many a grey area. It clears the way for any councillor to stand for any Australian parliament, with no concern about their possible eligibility.

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