According to a story in this morning’s Australian newspaper:
NEW evidence in a fraud and dishonesty case against Clive Palmer shows he used Chinese cash to funnel $6 million to the coffers of his Palmer United Party and $97,000 to pay a credit card bill, using funds that were meant to pay for the operations of a remote port.
The story also goes on to observe:
The seriousness of the allegations in China’s legal actions against Mr Palmer, who as the first defendant will face a Supreme Court civil trial in Brisbane from November 26, mean that the claims of fraud and dishonesty are likely to be referred to police.
Assuming that this referral actually occurs, and that fraud charges are actually laid, and that Palmer is eventually convicted (all of which are pretty large assumptions), the portly Clive could eventually find himself disqualified from sitting in Parliament. Section 44 of the Australian Constitution provides:
Any person who:
(ii) is attainted of treason, or has been convicted and is under sentence, or subject to be sentenced, for any offence punishable under the law of the Commonwealth or of a State by imprisonment for one year or longer; or
shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives.
Accordingly, Palmer would be disqualified from sitting in the House of Representatives as soon as he was convicted by a court. The parameters of this and the other bases of disqualification in section 44 are discussed in an excellent paper by John Kalokerinos titled Who May Sit? An Examination of the Parliamentary Disqualification Provisions of the Commonwealth Constitution . I’m not aware of any cases where a sitting senator or MHR has been relevantly convicted while in office and therefore disqualified. Former Speaker of the House of Representatives Peter Slipper managed to stave off conviction for offences of dishonesty relating to misuse of his parliamentary travel allowance until after he had failed to gain re-election at the 2013 election, as did former Labor MHR Craig Thompson for somewhat similar dishonesty offences on a wider and more varied scale. Of course, even Thompson’s efforts pale into insignificance alongside the allegations against Clive Palmer.
However, given how much money Palmer apparently has at his disposal (even if some of it actually isn’t his), he should certainly be able to employ lawyers who will succeed in delaying a conviction at least for the rest of this term of Parliament. Nevertheless, it is looking increasingly likely that the sometimes amusing spectacle of an eccentric billionaire in Parliament is not going to be a permanent political attraction. Moreover, Palmer’s demise would also no doubt spell the end of the Palmer United Party. However that doesn’t mean the demise of PUP’s three Senators as individual politicians, because they were all elected for a six year term. Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie is certainly an adornment for those of us who like to see politics as a real-life soap opera, but Western Australian Senator D.O. Wang and Queensland Senator and former rugby league legend Glenn “Brick with Eyes” Lazarus have been very low key to say the least and would not be missed if they chose to retire. But you would think that is unlikely given that the senatorial salary and benefits are almost certainly considerably more than either of them could earn outside of politics.