The High Court, sitting as the Court of Dispute Returns, has answered a question referred to it by the Senate on eligibility of being chosen under s 44 of the Constitution. The reference originally concerned then-Senator Jacqui Lambie’s eligibility under s 44(i), but following her resignation it focused on the eligibility of Steven Martin, another Senate candidate who, following a special count, was chosen to fill Lambie’s vacancy. The matter then focused on s 44(iv), which provides that ‘[a]ny person who … holds any office of profit under the Crown … shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator’. Martin holds the office of mayor and councillor of Devonport City Council, a local government corporation established under the Local Government Act 1993 (Tas).
On 6 February 2018, the Court held that Martin was not incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator by reason of s 44(iv), and delivered its reasons for that answer on 14 March. The joint judges (Kiefel CJ, Bell, Gageler, Keane, Nettle and Gordon JJ) first emphasised the importance of s 45(i), which provides that if a senator becomes subject to any of the disabilities in s 44, that senator’s place ‘shall thereupon become vacant’ (at ). The temporal relationship between ss 44 and 45 is the process of ‘being chosen’ in s 44 remains incomplete until a person not subject to a s 44 disability is validly returned as elected, whereas s 45 operates to vacate the place of a person validly returned who later becomes subject to a s 44 disability (see ). In this matter, there was no dispute that ‘the Crown’ refers to the executive government of a State, and no dispute that the offices of mayor and councillor in Tasmania are each an ‘office of profit’ (at ). The sole issue was whether those offices are ‘under’ the executive government of Tasmania (at –).
The joint judges then turned to the pre-Federation history of s 44(iv), noting that nothing in that history suggests it had a technical meaning at Federation, and that nothing in the drafting history suggests there was any significance for that choice of words (at ). Consequently, the joint judges saw pre-Federation history as ‘more enlightening as to the purpose of the disqualification’, Continue reading