Pauline Hanson has backed the referral of her Western Australian senator Rod Culleton to the High Court to determine his eligibility to sit in parliament, declaring it a matter of integrity.
For his part Culleton, who last week suggested he might not vote while his fate is being determined, has now said he will vote.
He said the Senate clerk had told him he had the right to vote and continue to represent the people of WA. “I intend to dutifully and responsibly fulfil my commitment to each and every one of them while in this place,” he said during a rambling and at times incoherent speech.
The Senate voted to ask the court, sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns to rule on whether Culleton and former Family First senator Bob Day were ineligible under the Constitution’s section 44 to be elected in July. Day resigned from the Senate last week.
Culleton’s case arises from having been convicted of a crime carrying a sentence of at least a year, although the conviction was later annulled. The court will look at whether Day had an indirect pecuniary interest in a contract with the Commonwealth for the lease of his electoral office.
Hanson told the Senate she had believed when Culleton nominated for One Nation “that he stated that he was eligible” to stand under section 44. “I took that to be his oath, and his signature was witnessed by a JP.”
She said she and her colleagues supported Culleton but “we have seen on too many occasions politicians … who have not been accountable to the Australian people and I will not stand here and be of the same ilk.
"I believe that it should go to the High Court to make their ruling … I hope their findings are in his favour.”
She said she had always stood for honesty, integrity and the truth.
“I cannot sit back and disregard what may have been a wrong judgement,” she said, while acknowledging Culleton would not be happy with her remarks.
Nick Xenophon, leader of the Nick Xenophon Team, backed sending the Culleton matter to the court but expressed sympathy for him. “I wish him well,” Xenophon said, adding he believed Culleton was a man of good heart and it would be manifestly unfair for him to be disqualified.
In Question Time, Labor pursued Turnbull over why the government did not act earlier on Day, given the Prime Minister had been informed in August of the question over his eligibility.
“How can it be that since then, for every single day that the 45th Parliament has sat, the Prime Minister has been aware that the composition of the Senate was potentially illegitimate, and why did the Prime Minister decide to keep this information secret from the Australian people?” Opposition Leader Bill Shorten asked.
Turnbull accused Shorten of “sanctimonious humbug”, saying that as the facts emerged about Day’s office, they were diligently investigated and legal advice taken.
Asked about the situation in 2014, when the incoming senator was seeking special arrangements in relation to his office, Turnbull said he had no personal knowledge of the circumstances then.
Turnbull countered with an attack on Kimberley Kitching, a close ally of Shorten and his captain’s pick for the Senate casual vacancy left by the departure of Stephen Conroy, who was sworn in as a senator on Monday. The royal commission on trade union corruption recommended she be prosecuted for undertaking tests on behalf of other officials to obtain right-of-entry permits. No prosecution has eventuated.