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When a Royal Commission Was the Answer to Section 44 Cloud Over MPs

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In 1975, faced with an uncertain legal position, and mounting claims and counter-claims of breaches, the Government, acting on an Opposition proposal, made moves to establish a Royal Commission to audit MPs’ compliance with the Constitutional provisions governing disqualification from contesting elections and sitting in Parliament.

Had it proceeded, the Royal Commission would have effectively been tasked with auditing the pecuniary interests of Members of Parliament to enable references of doubtful matters to the Court of Disputed Returns. It would have been further tasked with inquiring into the “present day” appropriateness of all of the disqualifications in sections 44 and 45.

The Royal Commission was ultimately frustrated initially by the unwillingness of suitable judges to take part and then rendered unnecessary by the decision of the High Court in Re Webster in June 1975, which narrowly defined the scope of the ban on having a pecuniary interest in an agreement…

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