The ex-mayor, Mornington Peninsula Shire councillor, and now independent candidate for the seat of Flinders, Despi O’Connor, has suspended her campaign for the 21 May election.
A statement, released by O’Connor today, states she has been made aware she may be in breach of section 44(iv) of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act that states:
“Any person who holds any office of profit under the Crown, or any pension payable during the pleasure of the Crown out of any of the revenues of the Commonwealth shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives”.
O’Connor is currently on leave without pay, and has been for 18 months, from the Victorian Department of Education while she attended to duties as mayor of the Mornington Peninsula Shire Council and then her campaign for election to federal parliament.
The News believes the issue facing O’Connor is the same one that derailed Philip Cleary in the 1992 by-election for the seat of Wills.
In Cleary’s case, he had taken leave without pay from the Victorian public school system with the intention of resigning if he was successful.
After he won the seat, the result was challenged in the High Court sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns. The majority of the court decided Cleary had held an “office of profit under the Crown” and was therefore “incapable of being chosen”.
In that case, the court found the entire by-election was void.
The oversight was acknowledged by O’Connor as “something I should have picked up on” and that much of her effort in the rush of an electoral campaign was focused on renouncing her dual citizenship.
“Personally I feel crushed that we have hit this roadblock”, said O’Connor. “But more importantly I feel for the Flinders community who have fought so hard to do politics differently”.
O’Connor stated that “this campaign has never been about seeing myself an an elected representative. It has been about building a movement to amplify the voices of our communities in Parliament.
“This is not a concession statement. Still, it is clear that this issue has the potential to derail my campaign.”