Pyne Threatens Phelps, Freelander and Zappia with Section 44 if Dutton Referred to High Court

Cabinet minister Christopher Pyne has warned that three MPs will face section 44 of the constitution if Peter Dutton is referred to the High Court.

Mr Pyne has threatened to refer independent Kerryn Phelps and Labor MPs Mike Freelander and Tony Zappia if the crossbench joined with Labor to test Mr Dutton’s eligibility to sit in parliament.

“It would behove the parliament if they vote to send Peter Dutton to the High Court, that those three MPs will also have to be sent to the High Court,” Mr Pyne told the ABC on Wednesday.

Dr Phelps faces the eligibility dispute over her work as a general practitioner and position on the City of Sydney Council.

It would result in her holding an “office of profit” under the Crown, making her ineligible.

Dr Freelander could face section 44 because of his employment at Campbelltown Hospital, which meant he could not nominate for Parliament without first severing his employment ties.

Meanwhile, Mr Zappia had recently had his eligibility to sit in Parliament questioned in November, as a partner in the FunLife Fitness Centre, between April 1983 and June 2018.

He is under pressure to reveal any interest in the centre that he founded in the 1970s.

Dr Phelps has called Mr Pyne’s threat “dirty tactics” but has not yet decided whether she will vote to refer Mr Dutton to the High Court.

The solicitor general has advised that Mr Dutton was “not incapable” of sitting in parliament due to section 44, but warned “some risk” remained over a conflict of interest, if a test over payments to childcare centres owned by his family trust breached the constitution.

Mr Pyne said he was not threatening the three MPs but he would move to refer them if Mr Dutton was referred.

“If the parliament decides that he does and should go to the high court, well that’s the same problem that Mike Freelander has, that Kerryn Phelps has and that Tony Zappia has,” he said.

South Australian independent Rebekha Sharkie said Mr Dutton’s personal links to the two publicly-funded childcare centres needed to be investigated.

“I think it’s quite clear that Peter Dutton has a case to answer,” Ms Sharkie said.

However, former Liberal frontbencher Julie Bishop said it was up to each MP to ensure that they were eligible.

“Every member should take their advice,” Ms Bishop said.

“Where there is doubt, then in the past the people have referred themselves or have been referred.”

Former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce said there should not be “adversarial referrals”

“It will never stop,” he told Sky News.

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