If Western Australian One Nation senator Robert Culleton ends up facing the High Court over claims that he was ineligible to stand at the July 2 election, he’s not sure if he’ll turn up.
“I’m not sure I’ll participate in any High Court jurisdiction,” he said during a bizarre press conference on Wednesday afternoon when news broke that attorney-general George Brandis had recommended that whether Culleton’s election was valid under the Constitution should be considered by the High Court.
Senator Culleton invoked Harry Potter, shearing sheep, veggie patches, taking scones, grabbing tigers, scoring 100 in cricket and getting “dog shit” on boots as he attempted to defend himself.
Having called the media conference, at one stage he declared “I’m not here to be cross-examined by the media”.
“There seems to be a very dark cloud hanging over the High Court at the moment,” he warned.
Sounding a little like Darryl Kerrigan from the comedy movie The Castle, Culleton declared that if he did appear before the High Court, “I’ll simply go down and shear a sheep, take the belly fleece, stick it over my head and represent myself, because I’m a true Australian that is standing up for the Australian people”.
Continuing on the theme of how to dress when appearing before their Honours, he mused: “What, I’ve got to come up with another $100,000 to have everyone sit up there like Harry Potter? I’m not doing that.”
But Culleton was confident of his chances, saying in an earlier statement: “This is a constitutional matter and boy am I sharp on the Constitution, so this is right up my veggie patch.”
Later, he said: “I’m not a criminal lawyer. Well, I’m not a lawyer at all.”
The senator’s problem is that he’d been convicted in NSW of larcency and was awaiting sentence when he nominated as a One Nation senate candidate in WA. The crime attracts a potential sentence of more than 12 months, which, under the Constitution, would make him ineligible to stand for parliament.
“I could have had four glasses of wine at the time I was nominating and thought I would fill out the form and be free and easy, I don’t know,” he said, explaining whether he considered the consequences at the time.
The allegation involved a $7.50 tow truck key in Guyra, NSW, in 2014. In a separate incident, he is also facing charges over the alleged theft of a $27,000 car in WA in 2015.
The 2015 conviction was annulled in August after Culleton became a senator.
Last week, he pleaded guilty to larceny over taking the key, but escaped having a conviction recorded. The ABC reported his barrister told the court his client was acting in self-defence when he took the key from the tow truck and threw it in a ditch.
He was ordered to pay more than $300 to the driver. The March 2015 incident involving the alleged theft of a hire car in WA has yet to be heard.
Today he admitted there had been a “good old punch up” during the incident.
But “at all material times I was innocent”.
“Just because I turn around and say that I took a key, it’s no different to taking a scone off someone’s plate,” Culleton explained.
‘It didn’t carry any conviction. I’ve been exonerated.”
“We’re talking about a single pocket key, really. One single key. I actually offered to buy [the tow truck driver] a brass one; it was a silver one, from memory.”
— Sky News Australia (@SkyNewsAust) November 2, 2016
Concerns about Culleton’s eligibility led to a former associate petitioning the High Court over the matter in September. The issue caught the attention of attorney-general George Brandis last month. Brandis sought a legal opinion from the solicitor-general on October 13. On Saturday, the attorney-general wrote to Senate president Stephen Parry about Culleton, asking the Senate to investigate and saying he will refer the matter to the High Court.
Senator Culleton has pledged to abstain from voting on controversial matters while his future in the chamber remains under a cloud.
“If the Australian people ask me to resign, I’ll do it,” he added.
But the absence of his vote means the cross-bench support the government needs to pass legislation is more difficult, especially after another regular Coalition supporter, South Australian Family First senator Bob Day, resigned on Tuesday following the collapse of his building business. Day’s appointment is also being investigated by the Senate and may head to the High Court over Constitutional issues.
Culleton was sanguine about the circumstances he finds himself in, saying: “There’s an old saying: if you grab a tiger by the tail, you better hang on. The thing is scratching, but I’m hanging on.”
As to his troubled business career, Culleton said: “I have come to the senate with a couple of battle scars, but I’m dealing with them and I’m funding all that myself, so I’m doing it the best way I can and I’m going out as an opening batsman and, you know, trying to hit one hundred.”
The senator was philosophical and metaphorical in explaining recent events.
“Some days, dog shit sticks to your boot, and unfortunately I’m wiping it off but it still stinks. I need to perhaps go over to that garden hose, or that puddle, and give it a good wash,” he said.
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