Liberal Party MP David Coleman ineligible to sit in parliament?

by | Feb 5, 2021 | Government

A company part-owned by Liberal MP David Coleman was given a government grant that put him in breach of section 44 of the Constitution. Jommy Tee investigates the trail of the Defence Department grant, which also involved Coleman making false declarations to the Australian Electoral Commission and breaching ministerial standards.

A company co-founded and co-owned by a federal Coalition MP David Coleman was awarded a $100,000 grant by the Department of Defence just before the 2019 federal election.

Before that election, Coleman also signed a declaration to the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), stating there was nothing that could disqualify from eligibility as an election candidate even though the constitution and the AEC form state clearly that anyone in receipt of federal government money may be disqualified from sitting in Parliament.

Apart from Coleman’s possible false declaration to the AEC and his eligibility to sit in parliament, the one-year grant raises serious questions around breaches of ministerial and parliamentary standards.

No comment… again

An FoI request was lodged with the Office of the Prime Minister to clear up some of these questions but the PM’s Office refused the request. An appeal has been lodged.

The Department of Defence also refused to answer a series of questions about the grant, saying it “would not be providing a comment on the matter”.

David Coleman, a minister in the Morrison government, and John Lee, a senior adviser to former foreign minister Julie Bishop, co-founded L21 Pty Ltd in 2001, according to ASIC records.

Mr Lee, Bishop’s senior adviser from 2016 to 2018, also has links to a number of think tanks including the Centre for Independent Studies, the United States Studies Centre and the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

Records show that the grant to L21 was approved on December 2018 ( Two months later, in February 2019, then defence minister Christopher Pyne  announced the grant. It was formally published in August 2019, several months after the May 2019 federal election.

Coleman stopped being a director of L21 in 2004 but retained a 35% beneficial shareholding at the time of the $100,000 grant. Mr Lee owned the remaining shares.

Dodging a constitutional bullet

Under section 44(v) of the Constitution, an elected represented who has a direct or indirect financial interest in any contract or agreement with the government may be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives.

Coleman was a part-owner of L21, which had been awarded a $100,000 grant contract with the Department of Defence.

It appears on the evidence that Coleman should have been ruled ineligible to sit in parliament from the time the grant was awarded in February 2019.

Misleading declaration

The situation was compounded by Coleman’s actions after the election campaign began.

The AEC is very clear in its advice to candidates and its section 44 qualification checklist (questions 15 & 15a):

“Section 44(v) may disqualify you even if you are not a party to the relevant contract or agreement. A disqualifying financial interest may arise, for example, from an agreement between the Commonwealth public service and a trustee of a family trust of which you are a beneficiary.” (AEC EF060)

In response to the Question 15 on the qualification checklist that all candidates have to answer, Coleman answered “No”, declaring he had no direct or indirect financial interest in any Commonwealth contract or agreement.

The offence of making a false and misleading statement in the qualification checklist falls under the Criminal Code, not the Electoral Act. The maximum penalty is 12 months imprisonment, or a fine of $12,600, or both.

According to the AEC if a candidate has answered the mandatory questions in the qualification checklist and has paid the relevant deposit, the AEC is legally required to accept the nomination.

The AEC has previously referred matters to the Australian Federal Police for false declarations, including Rod Culleton – a senate candidate from WA.

When contacted by Michael West Media, the AEC said:

“The AEC is not required to investigate the accuracy of information on a candidate checklist and notes that any person who identifies a potential Commonwealth criminal offence is able to report the conduct to the AFP.”

Any disqualification of a candidate due to section 44 of the Constitution can only be determined by the High Court sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns after an election.

Failure to correct the record

Was Coleman not aware of his duties under the Constitution? Did it slip his mind that his company had received the grant or that it posed a major constitutional risk to his re-election?

It would appear he was aware of his responsibilities because just two days after signing his form with the AEC, records from the corporate cop ASIC show that Coleman offloaded his shareholding in L21 to the company’s co-founder, John Lee, on 17 April 2019.

Coleman had another opportunity after the election to correct the record. Elected representatives are now required to attest and sign a statement that the material they provide to the AEC is complete and accurate and or they must supply supplementary material, which is an opportunity to correct the record.

Coleman lodged his attestation on 29 July 2019, but again made no mention of his shareholding in L21.

Yet on that same day he amended his parliamentary register of interests to advise that he had offloaded his shares in L21.

Failure to comply with Ministerial standards

Is it ethical for a government to award a grant to a company part-owned by a minister?

As a Cabinet minister Coleman was also bound by the ministerial standards, in particular the section dealing with integrity.

“Ministers must also comply with any additional requirements for declarations of interests to the Prime Minister as may be determined by the Prime Minister, and notify the Prime Minister of any significant change in their private interests within 28 days of its occurrence.”

This put the onus on Coleman to advise the Prime Minister that a company he part-owned had received a government grant, thus triggering possible constitutional ramifications. Likewise, Coleman should have also advised the Prime Minister that he divested his shareholding within 28 days from 17 April 2019.  The only public record we have is Coleman’s register entry on 29 July 2019 – some three months after the fact.

The Prime Minister’s Office has denied a Freedom of Information (FOI) request that seeks to check whether Coleman (and other ministers) complied with the integrity part of the ministerial standards. The refusal is being appealed.

Can Coleman’s position be challenged?

The deadline for a challenge by an individual or the Australian Electoral Commission to the election of David Coleman, via a petition to the High Court (sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns), has long since passed.  The deadline for lodging a challenge is 40 days after the return of the writs and expired on 31 July 2019.

However, the Commonwealth Electoral Act allows for a referral to be made to the High Court by the legislative chamber in which the relevant MP sits (in this case the House of Representatives). Moreover, there is no time limit on pursuing such a referral.

To make such a referral requires political will and strength of character by the parliament – a test for whether our politicians hold themselves accountable to the law.

Coleman who has been on indefinite personal leave from the ministry since December 2019, and demoted in the recent ministerial reshuffle late last year to an assistant minister was approached for comment.


Jommy Tee

Jommy Tee

Jommy Tee is a long-time career public servant, having worked in the policy development field for 25+ years as well as an independent researcher interested in politics, current affairs, and Nordic noir. You can follow Jommy on Twitter @Jommy_Tee.


  1. Avatar

    How can this go un challenged? What hope of honest politicians if this is allowed to and blatant lies without recourse. Keep exposing the truth the house oh cards eventually falls

    • Avatar

      Oxymoron – ‘honest politicians’. Another oxymoron – ‘deafening silence’ when it comes to ownership and accountability of everything that this administration has not done under Morrison’s watch and tightly managed by the one man band.

      As per my tweet on this article “Section 44 – time for a post haste departure of Morrison and his misfits. This is not what can be euphemistically called a ‘Government’, it’s nothing other than an organised crime family.

  2. Avatar

    if only we had some sort of federal icac with teeth…

    • Avatar

      We had that chance with the 2019 Federal Election, and the majority said no!

      Now, I wonder why that is? Conflict of interest perhaps?

  3. Avatar

    well done – call the corrupt to account !

  4. Avatar

    Does the corruption in the Liberal Party never end?
    In these cases FOIrefusals is against the public interest and could be seen as endorsing corruption.

  5. Avatar

    The least that Labor should do is unpair him.

    • Avatar

      Ues, especially seeing Morrisons office is refusing an FOI request.

    • Avatar

      There’s a definite need for a system where the public has an opportunity to look into the behaviour of politicians when they’re under obvious protection from dishonest party leadership.
      In fact, there’s a definite for revision of our constitution and electoral laws to provide jail time for many of the acts of the Morrison government.

  6. Avatar

    And now we know why Coleman went missing from Parliament for 12 months. Of course, if Coleman survives until about August this year, he will become eligible for all sorts of goodies provided to MP’s who have served longer than 12 months. The fact that for most of that time he has been missing is irrelevant.
    Just another day in the corrupt Morrison government.

    • Avatar

      What’s even more unpalatable is that the opposition gave a pair for this to happen!

      Just what exactly, do any of these people think that they are giving the public? ‘Good service’? The only good service occurring here is for their own vested interests, end of story. The rest of us can whistle Dixie while we vanish into the ethers.

      If we are actually interested in seeking an alternative to what’s been ‘delivered’ to date, maybe we can look to this
      example from Amsterdam:

      • Avatar

        Labor would have taken the explanation on face value- usually irs “medical reasons” and they wouldnt ask to see a medical certificate.

      • Avatar

        Funny about that! I can recall a time when I came down with food poisoning, on the job and grabbed a McDonald’s bacon and egg roll for breakfast, and had to close down an Interview as well.

        When I reported that I had food poisoning, the supervisor (male 30 something at the time) implied that I had done this deliberately and I would not be paid for my shift!

        I would have asked for a Medical Certificate, pure and simple, especially when it comes to anything regarding the LNP/BCA/IPA coalition. They ask for plenty of ‘quarter’ and give none, and as we have seen there was plenty to hide. Subjective decision making, cognitive biases and judgementalism really don’t make good outcomes for anyone, anywhere.

      • Avatar

        Presumably they only ask for a pair on separate occasions and the continued ‘need’ is not apparent? Do they even have to say who needs the pairing or give a reason? I would hope they will be more inquisitive now they are aware of this.

    • Avatar

      do we know why he has been away from Parliament?? surely it couldn’t be this matter..there has to be another reason

      • Avatar

        Did you not read the article? That’s why he went into hiding, because he was ineligible to sit in Parliament.

  7. Avatar

    So who can lodge the complaint ? Anyone in parli ? No wonder he’s been a no show ! How does one gain indef leave ? What does he hold over our gov ?

    • Avatar

      one seat majority ..

  8. Avatar

    It seems that a conflict of interest is a condition of entry to the Coalition.

    I recall a Resources Minister whose family owned a coal mine at the time.

  9. Avatar

    Such blatant corruption is WHY we will not get an independent transparent well resourced federal ICAC under the Libs. This man NEVER deserved a pair

  10. Avatar

    Section 44 of whitlams constitution which is invalid, everything they just stated is evidence that the AEC being a security commission is passing the buck to the federal police and actually allowing funds to take place via parliament, among other breaches which the AEC must be aware of before excepting and checking all avenues before accepting anyone as a candidate and knowing he is a partner of a current member as well. So did the AEC even check if he was section 44 citizen before being accepted as well or is the AEC just ignoring its duties and procedures under our 100 years established law, it is their operational duty to do so before hand NOT after for referral to Federal police for charges….

    These people do not now constitutional law or its purpose of application because they are using the fraudulent, invalid, void and inactionable fake constitution and their minute law Australia act Fake meanings of interpretation and application of their utter garbage…. The Australian Constitution Act and our Commonwealth of Australian constitution 1901 they must be used together there is not doubt or misinterpretations of our law, so what are these monsters doing still, even though they have been put on notice, charges served, our country is not a company and the USA registered Commonwealth of Australia incorporation is dissolved so they cannot use it then or now….

    The AEC is therefore once again breaching our nations security law, wonder if they are section 44? Australia has one Federal Referendum no elections at all at any level so the local councils defrauding and extorting the public is out of control trying to make themselves appear real and many court hearing have squashed there existence they are NOT a Government, NOT a government department and NOT a separate parliament be very aware of that… Thank you Michael….

  11. Avatar

    The problem is that the High Court has decided that it will not consider complaints about s.44 violations from members of the public, only from the parliamentary body to which the member has been elected – in other words, if you’r in the parliamentary majority, you don’t have to worry about the constitution.

  12. Avatar

    One thing is screamingly obvious – the penalties under Section 44 of our Constitution need to be ramped up substantially, so as to get some of the flotsam and jetsam out of parliament and into a gaol cell. Just look at the names which have breached Section 44 of late – and got clean away with it… Tony Abbott, Barnaby Joyce, Matt Canavan, the list goes on. Abbott’s case is a glaring example – he produced a letter from someone in the British High Commission in Canberra, stating that Abbott had revoked his UK citizenship – no other proof. Abbott could not or did not provide a copy of HIS revocation form and the authorities in the UK said that they could not produce a copy, as they could find no trace of a revocation being received.

    Since then, Abbott has received further government work, both here and in the UK from both governments – despite the fact that he claims to have revoked his UK citizenship and should therefore be denied entry to the UK for that, or quarantine/Covid reasons.

    These corrupt bastards are seemingly bulletproof.

    Until we – the public – have means other than elections to get rid of these criminal users and manipulators, we’re going to continue being screwed.

  13. Avatar

    So, why did Labor grant a pair for Coleman for 12 months?

    Who knew within the required timeframe about this (after the election) and failed to act?

    It seems that anyone in the HoR can refer this to the High Court? This isn’t the only s44 breach that has gone unactioned – reportedly because Labor and the LNP had a cosy little meeting at which they agreed to not challenge each other over s44 violations.

    Perhaps Helen Haines and Andrew Wilkie should step up.

  14. Avatar

    Hasn’t his electorate noticed his absence? Or has he been so inactive in the past that it wasn’t apparent?

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