One Nation senator Rod Culleton was defiant when he recently chose to represent himself in the High Court of Australia.
Mr Culleton is reported to have used his court appearance to air “all the grievances” he had with the federal government. In a sign of things to come, Culleton said he refused legal aid on the basis that having a government-funded lawyer would be like “sleeping with the enemy.”
The High Court is tasked with determining whether Senator Culleton breached section 44(ii) of the Constitution, invalidating his election to the senate.
Among other things, the subsection says that any person who has been convicted and is under sentence, or subject to be sentenced, for any offence punishable under the law of the Commonwealth or of a State by imprisonment for one year or longer shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives.
At the time of the July election, Mr Culleton had a conviction for larceny – which is punishable by a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment.
The court must decide whether that conviction disqualifies him from the position, in circumstances where the conviction was since annulled.
In court, Mr Culleton questioned the legitimacy of the Federal Parliament, arguing it has acted in contravention of the constitution since 1990 because it “has not been constituting itself with the Queen” – changing its name from the Parliament of the Commonwealth to the Parliament of Australia.
He also submitted that armed SWAT teams were helping the banks rob “any individual or family or corporation that dared to make a political protest.” He added that the Commonwealth had been engaging in a “reign of terror” by stripping the assets of hardworking Australians.
In other statements, Mr Culleton has accused the government of having “a series of incompetent, hopeless, Attorneys-General in both the Commonwealth and in the States.” Culleton has also called the High Court “selective, isolated [and] elitist,” and accused court’s registry of “capricious and unreasonable conduct.”
He is also highly critical of the Family Court, claiming it has never been legitimate because its judges are not required to swear allegiance to the Queen, which he calls the “cornerstone of representative democracy”.
Explaining the Larceny Charge
The larceny conviction related to an allegation that Mr Culleton stole a “$7.50” key from a tow truck driver who was trying to repossess the car he was leasing.
Mr Culleton gave the following account of the incident to the High Court:
“The thug started punching me, I punched back, and during the altercation, the key allegedly got lost, although he could have put it in his pocket. I was not worried about a key but where I would land my next punch.”
Culleton repeatedly asked the High Court to provide him with a jury trial.
“I am going to have jury on this. And that is what we want. We want a fair trial and we do want a jury,” he declared.
In that regard, section 80 of the constitution guarantees the right to a trial by jury for anyone tried “on indictment”; in other words, in the higher courts. Mr Culleton’s matter was not tried on indictment, but dealt with “summarily” in the local court.
The One Nation Senator also tried unsuccessfully to change the focus of the case. “Let’s not talk about the constitution… Judge me on my character… as a proud Western Australian for my constituents” Senator Culleton told Justice French. The judge responded by saying, “We are talking about the constitution”.
While the High Court is determining the case, Senator Culleton will continue to vote on government legislation as part of Parliament.
There is uncertainty as to how long the senator with remain part of the One Nation power bloc, as tensions between him and the party’s leader Pauline Hanson grow.
Even if Culleton is cleared by the High Court, there are several other legal issues hanging over his head. The senator allegedly stole a $27,000 hire car in the town of Cuballing in WA’s Wheatbelt region last year. The theft is alleged to have occurred during a clash with bank-appointed receivers, who were trying to repossess a friend’s farm.
There are also questions about his conduct as a director of Elite Grains. The senator has denied allegations of trading while the company was insolvent. Perth businessman Dick Lester has also filed a bankruptcy petition against Mr Culleton for $205,536, claiming he was partly responsible for liquidating a company called Deqmo.
It will be interesting to see how the High Court deals with Mr Culleton’s submissions.