A Strange Aspect of the Australian Constitution
I’m not a comparative constitutional-law scholar, but I find it interesting that, pursuant to Section 44(iii) of the Constitution of Australia, no one can serve in Parliament who “[i]s an undischarged bankrupt or insolvent.” The solvency requirement harkens back to the bad old days of U.S. history, when most States prohibited individuals who did not own property from voting. But the requirement lives on in Australia — and may well force one of the leaders of the Greens out of Parliament:
GREENS leader Senator Bob Brown has accused the Tasmanian Government of trying to force him out of the Federal Senate.
Dr Brown last week received a letter from Forestry Tasmania, a wholly-owned State Government business, demanding he pay nearly $240,000 in legal costs by June 29.
The Greens Senator was ordered to pay the fees by the Federal Court, after he lost on appeal his long running court case against Forestry Tasmania to halt logging in the Wielangta State Forest on Tasmania’s east coast.
Dr Brown claimed the logging was endangering the survival of the threatened wedge tail eagle and Swifts parrot and was therefore contrary to national environmental laws.
The longtime environmental campaigner said yesterday he was not refusing to pay the court-ordered $239,368 to Forestry Tasmania.
But he said he did not personally have the funds available to pay the legal demand, and could not raise them in the next three weeks.
The letter from Forestry Tasmania’s lawyers threatens it will seek to declare Dr Brown bankrupt if he cannot pay the required sum.
Any senator declared bankrupt or insolvent – or who is forced to enter into a payment schedule with creditors – is immediately disqualified from holding a seat in Federal Parliament.
Dr Brown said he had no doubt the Tasmanian Government and other “minions of the logging industry” were seeking to force him from parliament because of his long term quest to end all logging of Australia’s native forests.
“I’m not complaining (about the legal costs); these are typical pressure tactics being used by the logging industry,” Senator Brown said in Hobart.
“But I will not back off either from defending Tasmania’s magnificent forests – not now, not ever.”
I suppose I understand the solvency requirement — a bankrupt MP is perhaps more likely to engage in corruption than a wealthy one. But immediate disqualification seems both excessive and subject to misuse, as Brown’s situation indicates. If any of our Australian readers know why the requirement has never been eliminated, I hope they will chime in.