Photo: Senator Scott Ludlam has been outspoken on federal and state issues. (ABC News: David Weber)
Ludlam: From party staffer to co-deputy of federal Greens
By Rebecca Trigger and Jessica Strutt
14 Jul 2017,
Deputy Greens leader Scott Ludlam is stepping down from Federal Parliament, after admitting he has been ineligible to sit in the Senate for his whole tenure because he holds dual citizenship.
Mr Ludlam admitted his election was invalid because he did not renounce his New Zealand citizenship, which the WA Senator said he only discovered he had a week ago.
Section 44 of the constitution disqualifies potential candidates from election to the Parliament of Australia if they hold dual or plural citizenship.
Prior to his announcement, Mr Ludlam had become one of the Greens' most prominent senators after first being elected at the 2007 federal election.
His admission about his New Zealand citizenship opened the possibility that the Commonwealth could pursue him to pay back years in salary and allowances, but Mr Ludlam said he was confident that would not eventuate.
Mr Ludlam's Senate position is expected to be filled by a recount of ballot papers from the 2016 election.
That would likely lead to the election of 22-year-old Jordon Steele-John who was third on the Greens Senate ticket.
Mr Ludlam's resignation comes after a period of turmoil for the Greens, in which New South Wales senator Lee Rhiannon was excluded from the partyroom over a dispute about the Government's school funding legislation.
Ludlam admits responsibility, unreservedly apologises
Mr Ludlam has apologised unreservedly for what he said was his mistake and a "ridiculous oversight".
"This is my error, something I should have checked when I first nominated for pre-selection in 2006," he said.
"It never occurred to me as someone who left the country [New Zealand] as a three-year-old, [as someone who] has never really considered it home.
"This town is home. I have been here since 1978. It never crossed my mind that citizenship might be something that sticks to you in that way."
Mr Ludlam said he had decided against fighting to stay on.
"I could have dug my heels in. But it creates a messy and protracted dispute. That section of the constitution is crystal clear and it has been tested before by others," he said.
"It is not something that I particularly want to put myself, my staff or my party through. This is probably a cleaner way to just make a break.
Mr Ludlam said the situation was brought to their attention a week ago while he was overseas by someone who had "done the digging, for whatever reason".
Ludlam could be forced to repay salaries, allowances
There are some recent examples of the High Court ruling senators' elections invalid, including former Family First senator Bob Day and former WA One Nation senator Rod Culleton.
In both cases, their elections were declared invalid under the constitution and the court ordered the replacements be filled by a recount of ballots.
The subsequent countbacks resulted in the next person on their parties' Senate tickets being elected, which is most likely what the Greens will be hoping happens in this latest situation involving Mr Ludlam.
Assuming a countback results in the third Greens Senate candidate being elected, that would see Jordon Steele-John fill the vacancy.
But Mr Steele-John, a 22-year-old who has cerebral palsy, left the door open to not accepting the position.
"If it comes down to it, I'd be happier putting the choice of candidate back into the hands of our party membership," he said.
"But like everyone else in the party I'm going to be spending the next week in sad shock."
In the cases of Mr Day and Mr Culleton, the federal Department of Finance did seek to have them repay all of their salaries and allowances during the time they were invalidly elected.
The Government ultimately decided to waive Mr Day's debts, but those cases appear to raise the possibility that attempts could be made to force Mr Ludlam to repay the salaries and allowances he has earned over nine years as a senator.
But Mr Ludlam said he did not have the means to pay back the money and was confident it would not come to that.
"It's going to be millions of dollars and my total assets amount to a fast computer and some nice shoes," he said.