Turnbull government MP offloads post office amid constitutional challenge

Federal MP David Gillespie has sold off the regional post office that threatened his political career – and the Turnbull government’s parliamentary majority – paving the way for him to run in a possible byelection.
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Labor has launched a High Court challenge against the Nationals MP, who serves as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s assistant health minister, because it believes the Post outlet could be anindirect financial interest in the Commonwealth – grounds for disqualification under section 44(v) of the constitution.

Labor is challenging assistant health minister David Gillespie’s eligibility to sit in Parliament Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

As revealed by Fairfax Media a year ago, Dr Gillespie owns a small suburban shopping complex in Port Macquarie on the NSW north coast and one of the shops was being leased to a franchisee of Post – a government-owned corporation.

ButDr Gillespie updated his pecuniary last week to reveal he had sold the shop in recent weeks.

While that will not protect him from disqualification if the High Court rules against him, disposing of the interest will allow him to run again in his seat of Lyne. Dr Gillespie’s office said he needed to sell the shop to help pay his court fees, which some estimate will run as high as $500,000.

While the government has covered the costs of all the federal MPs referred to the court over their citizenship status, it’s unclear whether Dr Gillespie will get the same assistance.

Dr Gillespie’s case differs from those of the other seven because the challenge was brought under the Common Informers Act by Peter Alley – the Labor candidate Dr Gillespie beat at the 2016 election.

Peter Alley.

Dr Gillespie’s lawyers have sought to kill off the Labor challenge by arguing the way in which it was brought – by failed candidate Mr Alley, under the the Common Informers Act – is illegitimate.

The court is expected to rule in the coming weeks whether the challenge can proceed.

If Dr Gillespie is disqualified there would be an immediate byelection. It is understood Dr Gillespie intends to run again.

The Nationals would be well-placed to retain the seat, although it was previously held by independent Rob Oakeshott under different electoral boundaries. If the Coalition lost the seat, the government would be reduced to 75 seats on the floor of Parliament, severely weakening Mr Turnbull’s grip on power.

Dr Gillespie and his wife, through their company Goldenboot, lease the shop space in question to a woman who is an Post licensee – meaning he has no direct financial link to the postal service. They own 18 properties in total.

Section 44(v) of the constitution says any person who “has any direct or indirect pecuniary interest in any agreement with the Public Service of the Commonwealth otherwise than as a member and in common with the other members of an incorporated company consisting of more than 25 persons shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives”.

The section is an anti-corruption measure, designed to stop people sitting in Parliament and at the same time making money through contracts with the Commonwealth.

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