Crewther denies breach

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No interest in speculation: Dunkley MP Chris Crewther has dismissed claims that a potential constitutional breach will force a by-election is his marginal seat. Picture: Gary Sissons

DUNKLEY MP Chris Crewther has denied claims he is in violation of the Constitution and incapable of sitting in parliament.

Shadow Attorney General Mark Dreyfus MP raised concerns over Mr Crewther’s involvement Mornington pharmaceutical company Gretals Australia, saying he “must be referred to the High Court.”

“Reports today that member for Dunkley Chris Crewther invested in a company that has received federal grants, after spruiking those very grants in Parliament, cast serious doubts over his eligibility for Parliament,” Mr Dreyfus said.

“Astonishingly, on 6 September this year, Mr Crewther disclosed to the House of Representatives he had then invested $25,000 in Gretals Australia, a biotechnology company. The 2017 grant is on top of Gretals’ ongoing involvement with an Australian Research Council Linkage grant, involving more than $400,000 of Commonwealth money, through which Gretals stands to gain significant commercial benefit.

“The Constitution is clear, members of Parliament cannot have an interest in agreements with the Commonwealth, whether direct or indirect. Mr Morrison must refer Mr Crewther to the High Court without delay.”

Section 44 (v) of the Constitution states that if an MP “has any direct or indirect pecuniary interest in any agreement with the Public Service of the Commonwealth otherwise than as a member and in common with the other members of an incorporated company consisting of more than twenty-five persons” they “shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives.”

Mr Crewther declared on 6 September that he had bought shares in Gretals through a self managed super fund with his wife. Gretals declared on 22 August that Mr Crewther had purchased $25,000 in shares.

Mr Crewther told parliament on 23 October 2017 that he had “met with the CEO of Gretals Alistair Cumming to discuss how they will benefit from their recently received $50,000 grant under the government’s global connections fund, as part of the national innovation and science agenda, as well as other recent federal funding they have received”.

Grant questions: Mr Crewther posted a photo of a meeting with Gretal CEO Alistair Cumming on his public Facebook page on 25 September, 2017.

The Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE) announced Gretals had received the “bridging grant” of $50,000 in August 2017. The bridging grants program has its recipients chosen by the ATSE, but funding to the ATSE for the grants comes from the federal government.

However, Mr Cumming told The Times that Gretals “did not proceed” with projects that were to be financed through the global connections fund.

“We never received funding,” he said.

The Australian Research Council, a federal government agency, also lists Gretals as a partner organisation of the University of Melbourne in a three-year project that started in 2017, that received $421,854 from the government .

A statement from a federal government spokesman provided to The Times denied the ARC grant would cause an issue.

“The government has written advice from the Australia Research Council that the university that applies for ARC grant funding is paid the grant money. Partner organisations do not receive grant money from the ARC. Partner organisations are required to provide cash or in-kind support to the project,” the statement said.

A partner organisation is also defined in the ARC guidelines as “a cash and/or in-kind contributor to the project.”

A front page Herald Sun article on 2 November suggested that Mr Crewther would be “at risk” of breaching section 44 (v) of the Constitution as a result of his investment.

Mr Crewther has denied all allegations of wrongdoing.

“I have fully complied with my disclosure obligations and I am confident they do not raise any concerns,” he said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Sydney that he was “not concerned” there were any issues relating to Mr Crewther’s eligibility.

A vote on the floor of the House of Representatives to send Mr Crewther to the High Court might prove troublesome for the Coalition, as it recently lost its majority due to its defeat at the Wentworth by-election. The government would have to rely on one of the crossbenchers to vote against a referral. Kennedy MP Bob Katter has signalled he would not support a vote to refer Mr Crewther to the High Court.

A vote to refer Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton to the High Court in August for a potential violation of section 44 (v) was defeated 69-68.

A change in the Dunkley electorate boundaries has seen the seat become nominally Labor, making a by-election an unattractive prospect.

Mr Crewther’s Labor opponent in the next federal election will be Peta Murphy. Mr Crewther narrowly defeated Ms Murphy in 2016 to earn his first term as an MP, replacing outgoing Liberal Bruce Billson, who had held the seat since 1996.

First published in the Frankston Times – 5 November 2018

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