Section 44 continues to plague the Coalition, with Labor raising fresh concerns over whether another Morrison government cabinet minister is eligible to sit in Parliament.
Energy Minister Angus Taylor is the latest MP to run into questions over section 44 of the Constitution, after claims emerged over a family company he owns having contracts with the government.
But the new charge that Mr Taylor could be in breach of is likely to prove hollow, with the ALP unable to refer him to the High Court before the next election.
This is also the case with Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, who escaped a referral to the High Court last year.
Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has urged the Prime Minister to refer the matter to the High Court – a highly unlikely outcome given the government’s precarious numbers in the House of Representatives.
“Another year, another senior Morrison minister under a cloud. We ended last year with Peter Dutton under a cloud because of his association with a number of childcare centres that cast his eligibility to sit in Parliament and his eligibility to be a minister under serious doubt. Now we have Energy Minister Angus Taylor suffering from the same problem,” Mr Dreyfus said.
“He’s had shares in a company, Derwent, which has had a number of contracts with the Commonwealth and he’s refusing to make clear exactly when he held those shares.
“It appears that he still held the shares at the time of the last election, which would put his eligibility to sit in Parliament in doubt.
“But he’s now saying that he sold the shares in January 2016. His problem is that that is inconsistent with what he told the register of interests, with what he himself put on the register of interests, that members are required to record their interests in. It’s also inconsistent with what Derwent, the company in question, told ASIC.”
Government sources have conceded that while Mr Angus may have been slow to update Parliament’s pecuniary interest register, it does not in itself represent a breach of section 44.
“Mr Taylor’s interest in Derwent ceased by contract with Ben Derwent in January 2016. Mr Taylor has had no relevant interest in the company since that time,” a spokesman told The New Daily.
But Mr Dreyfus said Labor was not satisfied with his explanation.
“So what we have is Mr Taylor claiming to have sold shares, but it is inconsistent with both his own returns to the register of interests and the returns that the company made to ASIC,” he said.
“Mr Taylor has up until now not provided any proof at all that he sold the shares at an earlier time than he told the register of interests or that the company has told ASIC and it’s long past time for Mr Morrison to step in and put this matter beyond doubt.”