Senator Malcolm Roberts has been forced to pay a $6,000 penalty and legal costs to a blogger who sued him for sitting while ineligible at the height of the constitutional eligibility crisis of the 45th parliament.
On 24 June the high court ordered Roberts to pay Sunshine Coast blogger Tony Magrathea the penalty for breaching section 44 of the constitution by continuing to serve as a senator while ineligible due to dual citizenship.
Magrathea sued the One Nation senator under the Common Informers (Parliamentary Disqualifications) Act, a law allowing private citizens to blow the whistle on parliamentarians who are ineligible for their public office.
The law sets the penalty at $200 plus $200 “for every day, subsequent to that day, on which he or she is proved in the suit” to have sat while ineligible.
Magrathea filed his suit on 28 September, 2017, one month before the high court ruled Roberts ineligible due to having been a British citizen when nominating for the 2016 election.
Section 44(1) of the Australian constitution disqualifies a “citizen or subject of a foreign power” from sitting in parliament. In the 45th parliament 14 MPs or senators resigning or being ruled ineligible due to dual citizenship.
Magrathea told 10 Daily he had contacted several politicians with concerns about dual citizenship as early as 2014, and attempted to alert Roberts to his potential British citizenship in 2016.
“I wrote to him, saying ‘make sure you’ve got rid of your British citizenship’. He ignored and blocked me on social media,” Magrathea reportedly said.
“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.”
Roberts’s disqualification brought One Nation candidate Fraser Anning into the Senate, before Anning was dumped by voters at the 2019 election and Roberts was re-elected at the head of the One Nation ticket.
Common informers actions are difficult to pursue because applying to the court for a penalty does not require the court to decide on the eligibility of the parliamentarian in question unless a challenge is brought within 40 days of writs being returned or the question is referred by parliament.
The act also has a 12-month time limit to bring suits, meaning that Nationals Barnaby Joyce and Fiona Nash, and Greens Scott Ludlam and Larissa Water – who were found ineligible alongside Roberts – cannot be pursued for a penalty.