Coalition MP Chris Crewther in potential breach of constitution

Coalition MP Chris Crewther in potential breach of constitution
Labor want to refer Chris Crewther to the High Court. Photo: John O'Niell, Wikimedia Commons

Shadow attorney general Mark Dreyfus is leading calls for the high court to investigate the eligibility of Liberal MP Chris Crewther after concerns emerged that he may have breached the constitution.

Labour is concerned that the Victoria MP may have breached Section 44 of the constitution – which defines the grounds for disqualifying prospective Parliamentary election candidates – by benefitting from an interest from the commonwealth.

Crewther declared an investment of $25,000 in Gretals Australia on a parliamentary interests register last month; an investment Dreyfus believes was made following a government grant of $50,000 to Gretals in 2017.

“The constitution is clear – members of parliament cannot have an interest in agreements with the commonwealth, whether direct or indirect,” Dreyfus said, before calling on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to refer Crewther to the high court himself.

The PM remains unconcerned over the right for Crewther to sit in Parliament: “These stories, they come and they go,” he said on Friday. “I have no concerns on the matter.”

Morrison’s government, however, no longer possesses an absolute majority in the House of Representatives following the Wentworth by-election defeat last month, undermining its capacity to block a referral to the high court.

The crossbench backed a failed Labor push to refer Peter Dutton to the high court last month over a breach to Section 44, but the motion was defeated by one vote.

This time, north Queensland independent MP Bob Katter’s comments suggest Labor is condemned to another referral defeat.

Katter said it would be “hard to envisage a situation in which I would vote [for a referral] because I have seen so many people struck down by petty, ridiculous rubbish”.

Katter’s absence at the parliamentary vote, however, could still open the door to a successful referral of Crewther to the high court.

This will be the first test of the coalition’s ability to block referrals since the Wentworth by-election and places great power in the hands of the crossbench.

If Crewther is to be unseated by the high court, a resulting by-election in Dunkley could prove decisive to Morrison’s hopes of holding a federal election as late as possible in May 2019.