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Crossbench kingmaker Nick Xenophon has called on the Turnbull government to abandon any plans to force dumped senators Bob Day and Rod Culleton to repay their taxpayer-funded salaries and allowances.
Senator Xenophon says it’s “ridiculous” the Department of Finance has sent the pair letters telling them they are required to pay back the salaries, expenses and staff costs they accrued during the time they sat in the upper house invalidly.
Both men are on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars, despite being officially declared bankrupt.
“I think it is a bit ridiculous really,” Senator Xenophon told the ABC on Sunday.
“Whatever you thought of Bob Day and Rod Culleton the fact is they were declared elected. There was a process where they were found not to be duly elected but they turned up to work, they did so in good faith and it would set a very dangerous precedent.”
The government would likely be “throwing good money after bad” by pursuing them given the state of their finances, he said: “I think the Commonwealth has got other ways to better use its resources.”
???The High Court ruled both men were invalidly elected – Mr Culleton because he was bankrupt and Mr Day because he had a constitutionally prohibited financial interest in the Commonwealth due to a complex office leasing arrangement.
Mr Culleton was paid more than $100,000 in salary and superannuation between the July 2 election and the court’s decision in January. Mr Day was paid close to $130,000 between February 2016, when the office arrangement took effect, and his November resignation. Both men also racked up thousands in travel and office allowances, and staff costs.
However the government could choose to waive the debt. The men can apply for an “act of grace” from Special Minister of State Scott Ryan, who would then decide whether the debt should stand or be forgiven. The Department of the Senate could also apply to have the debts forgiven on their behalf.
“There’s a process to go through that any citizen can apply for about the waiver for a debt to the Commonwealth,” Senator Ryan said last week.
The finance department could also decide not to pursue the debt if the men provide evidence as to their “financial circumstances”.
Mr Culleton has angrily described the debt notice as a “politically-motivated attack”. Mr Day has declined to publicly comment.
Labor has demanded the government go ahead with the debt recovery.
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