Who will fill the empty seat?

Ex-Senator Bob Day has had his day, with his re-election to the Senate being ruled ‘unconstitutional’ by the High Court. But what does this mean for the Government?

The former senator resigned in November last year, after it was revealed that he may have been illegally voting in Parliament for more than two years.

The ex-Family First MP had his electorate office in a building which was owned by a company to which he was linked, effectively receiving a taxpayer-paid salary and taxpayer-paid rent.

The High Court ruling now leaves a vacant seat in the Senate. So, who will fill it?

The Family First party originally thought that the court would allow it to choose its own replacement, either Mr Day’s former chief of staff Rikki Lambert or Family First’s Lucy Gichuhi. But the High Court quickly quashed that notion by ordering a special recount of Senate ballots in South Australia.

Labor anticipated this High Court decision, because political parties require two tickets to stand, and Bob Day’s expulsion effectively meant that Family First only had one, so the ALP expected to pick up an extra seat in the Senate.

But the High Court rejected that argument saying that “there is nothing to suggest that the votes cast above the line in favour of Family First were not intended to flow” to Lucy Gichuhi.

The ABC psephologist, Antony Green, believes that Ms Gichuhi is certain to win the seat.

But her election may be complicated.

The Opposition claims that Ms Gichuhi, who was born in Kenya, may not have renounced her Kenyan citizenship. However, Ms Gichuhi has denied the claims, saying she is not, and never has been, a dual citizen.

Ms Gichuhi’s election could also spell trouble for the Government, as Bob Day was a staunch supporter of Coalition policy, having voted in favour of its legislation around 95 per cent of the time.

On the other hand, Ms Gichuhi may not be so predisposed to support the Coalition. It is believed that she will most likely not favour any push to curb spending and she has also publicly stated that she will take a different approach to her mentor, Mr Day.

“I have an independent mind and I have a different experience to Bob. Definitely I’m different,” she said.

If the Government thought it had trouble corralling the crossbenchers before, it may soon be in for a rougher ride.

Also, in light of the High Court ruling on Mr Day, the Opposition is now calling for the head of Assistant Health Minister David Gillespie, after it was revealed that he may have an indirect financial interest in a property leased to the Commonwealth.

Mr Gillespie owns a block of commercial buildings, one of which is leased to Australia Post – a Government-owned corporation.

But the Government is confident that Mr Gillespie’s situation is not a conflict of interest. And its position is backed by constitutional law Professor Anne Twomey.

“The key aspect of the Day case is that the purpose of section 44(v) [of the Constitution] is to prevent a conflict between a member’s personal interest and public duty,” said Ms Twomey.

“I don’t know enough about the facts in the case of Mr Gillespie to say [if there’s a conflict].

“But if, theoretically, it is simply a matter of an ordinary commercial lease to a lessee, who then sub-leases to an Australia Post franchise on ordinary commercial terms, and there is no conceivable exercise of ‘influence’, then it is probably okay.”

Does the High Court ruling on Bob Day satisfy you? Should any legislation pushed through the Senate, supported by Bob Day’s vote, also be reviewed? Do you think Mr Gillespie’s situation is a conflict of interest? Or is the Labor Party clutching at straws?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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