Culleton $700,000 government debt waived but creditors owed $3.2m

Colin Bettles
By Colin Bettles
April 1 2018 - 8:30pm
Former One Nation turn independent WA Senator Rod Culleton.

FORMER rogue WA One Nation Senator and anti-banking farmer Rod Culleton has had his $700,000 Commonwealth government debt waived, along with other politicians ruled ineligible by the High Court recently.

But a judgment handed down in a recent effort by Mr Culleton to try to overturn his bankruptcy in the Federal Court says the Trustee has also identified creditors of the bankrupt estate with claims totalling more than $3.2 million.

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Finance Minister Mathias Cormann issued a statement late last week saying a process was undertaken to consider the debts owed by various disqualified politicians like Mr Culleton, and others caught up in the dual citizenship saga, including former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce and the party’s deputy-leader and senior cabinet minister Fiona Nash.

Mr Culleton had initially refused to make a formal request to the government to have his $700,000 debt waived, after being disqualified from parliament early last year due to bankruptcy and another breach of Section 44 of the constitution relating to a larceny conviction at the time of his nomination for election in 2016.

A statement from Senator Cormann said part of the government’s consideration process, involving the Department of Finance, the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority and the Department of the House of Representatives and the Department of the Senate, included the creation of a departmental advisory committee of senior public officials to provide advice on the associated debts.

“The departmental advisory committee determined that all parliamentarians performed their duties in good faith for a proper purpose and that it was difficult for individuals at the time of nomination to know that they were ineligible for nomination,” he said.

“As such, the departmental advisory committee recommended waiving debts consistent with the principles and intent of the ‘Requests for discretionary financial assistance under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2014’.

“Based on the recommendation of the committee, I have agreed to waive the debts of the following individuals: Rodney Culleton, Barnaby Joyce, Scott Ludlam, Fiona Nash, Malcolm Roberts and Larissa Waters.

“These debts include salaries, superannuation and electorate allowances, as well as non-salary expenses, such as, staff expenses, office expenses and travel expenses.

“The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters is currently reviewing matters relating to Section 44 of the Constitution - the Government will consider the recommendations of the Committee when they are finalised.”

Senator Cormann’s office was asked to clarify reports the total waived debt for all of the politicians was $16 million - but the government doesn’t discuss the details of individual debt waiver matters, no matter who the individuals are, due to privacy matters.

In May last year, a letter to Mr Culleton on the matter of his debt said the Commonwealth non-salary payments made to him, or on his behalf, included; $16,150.08 in superannuation; $188,601.96 in benefits; and $375,243.22 in staff salary and other payments.

Mr Culleton told Fairfax Media that - including his six-month salary payments of about $100,000 - his total debt amount to the Commonwealth was close to $700,000.

But he said he wouldn’t be asking the government to waive the debts because it would be an admission.

“I’m not going to admit to something that is wrong and hasn’t been tested at law,” he said at the time.

Mr Culleton said he couldn’t be subject to sentencing – for the alleged theft of a $7.50 tow truck key – as he was originally convicted in absentia in a NSW court over the larceny charge that was later annulled, after his election.

Meanwhile, Mr Culleton also recently lost another attempt in a Federal Court case decision handed down in mid-March, to try to have his bankruptcy overturned.

“None of the claims or arguments of the applicant have any prospects of success and the pursuit of many of the claims is quite clearly an abuse of process,” the judgement said in the unsuccessful claim pursued by Mr Culleton against his former farming neighbour Dick Lester who won a long-running bankruptcy claim over a soured farm property transaction and contract to sell oats.

The judgement ordered that Mr Lester’s costs to defend the claim be paid from Mr Culleton’s bankrupt estate.

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“The applicant did not put anything that suggested that these conclusions should be revisited under the power to annul the sequestration order,” the judgment said.

“The applicant’s claims have no prospect of success and, in any event, the pursuit of them constitutes an abuse of process.

“Throughout the material in this proceeding there are complaints by the applicant about various aspects of the way in which the primary judge dealt with the issues in the Single Judge Bankruptcy Proceeding, such as his Honour’s refusal to grant an adjournment and his conclusion about the applicant’s ability to pay his debts.

“Those matters have been the subject of prior decision, or have no substance, or both.

“Finally, there is no substance in the allegation that Balwyn (Mr Lester) engaged in criminal conduct in presenting the creditor’s petition.”

The judgement said a Trustee for the applicant’s (Mr Culleton) bankrupt estate was appointed in place of the Official Trustee on June 8, 2017.

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It said that as at November 21, 2017, the applicant had failed to submit a Statement of Affairs as required by s 54 of the Bankruptcy Act and, as a result, an offence referral was made by the Official Trustee and accepted by the Australian Financial Security Authority Enforcement Department.

The Trustee has said he’s investigating potential voidable transactions involving the applicant transferring shares in a company called Australian Keg Company Pty Ltd, the judgment said.

“As at November 17, 2017, Mr Vince (Trustee) had identified creditors of the bankrupt estate whose claims total $3,218,466.46,” the judgment said.

“In addition, the Official Trustee is owed $9,299.41 in remuneration and expenses for work performed in relation to the applicant’s estate, including legal fees.

“Mr Vince calculates his remuneration for work performed by him and his staff in relation to the applicant’s estate as at November 17, 2017 to be $20,062 plus GST, and disbursements of $1,545.08 plus GST.

“The applicant (Mr Culleton) did not present any evidence or plausible evidence of his financial circumstances.”

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A creditors petition submitted during the bankruptcy proceedings identified about $4m in alleged debts, including to farmers and agribusinesses, which Mr Culleton described as “nonsense”.

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Colin Bettles

Colin Bettles

Canberra Bureau Chief

Has been the Canberra Bureau Chief for Fairfax Agricultural Media since 2010 - survived the hung parliament - former media manager at Western Australian Cricket Association now covering national agricultural and rural issues in federal politics.

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