Malcolm Roberts Successfully Sued For Being A Dual Citizen In Parliament
A private citizen who is passionate about politics has successfully sued One Nation's Malcolm Roberts over his section 44 scandal, winning $6000 from the former British citizen.
Roberts was one of 15 politicians caught up in the section 44 imbroglio of 2017-18, as politicians including Barnaby Joyce, Scott Ludlam, Larissa Waters, Jacqui Lambie and Fiona Nash were forced from parliament after it was discovered they held citizenship of another nation when they were elected.
Roberts was elected to the Senate in 2016 and forced out in 2017, but recently won back a seat in the upper house at the May poll.
But just weeks later, his paperwork error has come back to haunt him, as the High Court ruled he must pay $6000 to a dogged constituent who pursued him through the courts.
Sunshine Coast blogger Tony Magrathea filed a case against Roberts under the Common Informers (Parliamentary Disqualifications) Act, a little-used piece of law which gives recourse to ordinary citizens to sue politicians who were not eligible to sit in parliament.
The act outlines that any federal member "declared by the Constitution to be incapable of so sitting shall be liable to pay to any person who sues for it in the High Court".
It sets out that the member should pay $200 in total for their ineligibility before the suit is served, and another $200 "for every day, subsequent to that day, on which he or she is proved in the suit to have so sat."
Magrathea filed his suit on September 28, 2017, a month before the High Court ruled Roberts ineligible due to having been a British citizen when declaring his candidacy for the 2016 election.
Nearly two years later, on June 14 this year, Roberts was ordered by the High Court to pay Magrathea a total of $6000 -- the initial $200, plus $200 for each of the 29 days between the suit being filed and Roberts being ruled ineligible.
High Court orders, seen by 10 daily and verified by a High Court spokesperson, compel defendant Roberts to pay Magrathea the sum plus his court costs.
In a brief written response, Roberts' office confirmed the facts were correct, but declined to comment further.
Magrathea told 10 daily he had contacted several politicians with concerns about dual citizenship as early as 2014, and attempted to alert Malcolm Roberts to his potential British citizenship in 2016.
The High Court's chronology of the Roberts case lists that on August 7, 2016, Magrathea had sent a Facebook message to the senator's wife, with his concerns about Roberts' citizenship.
"I wrote to him, saying 'make sure you've got rid of your British citizenship. He ignored and blocked me on social media," Magrathea said.
"I rang a lot of big legal companies about the case. They were terrified of taking any politician on."
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He later retained the services of a solicitor and then Sunshine Coast barrister Clem van der Weegen, a one-time candidate for Clive Palmer's Palmer United Party in 2013.
Barrister van der Weegen said it was difficult for anyone to bring successful cases under the Common Informers Act, but that his case was helped by riding "on the coat-tails" of the High Court's section 44 decisions.
"It was always a bit of a mystery, as this was the first time it had ever been done in the history of federation," he told 10 daily.
"It's just a confluence of events that made it possible... It was a case of good timing."
However, despite the ruling, others shouldn't expect to be able to claim similar payments from the other disqualified politicians -- as the Act has a 12-month time limit to bring suits, van der Weegen said, meaning the other MPs from 2017-18 are now in the clear.
"I could have money-grubbed off anyone but I wasn't interested," Magrathea said, of his reasons for taking Roberts to court but not any of the other section 44 politicians.
"The cash doesn't matter, it's a first for the Common Informers Act. It's a little bit of history being written by what we’ve done."
Following the 2017 section 44 calamity, the Australian Electoral Commission enacted more stringent rules around candidacy and eligibility forms, requiring candidates to provide more information about their family history and potential foreign citizenships.
The barrister said the Roberts judgement should give politicians greater pause and reflection in filling out their paperwork.
"It's in the public interest, it puts MPs and senators on notice that they can't ignore questions of their eligibility and that there is the possibility of a penalty," van der Weegen said.