South Australia’s former Deputy Prime Minister Vickie Chapman could be forced to leave politics earlier than she intended after an obscure dispute with the Speaker of Parliament over whether her resignation has come into effect yet.
Most important points:
- Vickie Chapman announced her intention to retire from politics last month
- But Speaker Dan Cregan has questioned whether her resignation has come into effect yet
- He said it was because of provisions in the state’s constitution
But Ms Chapman hit back, saying that in fact she has not resigned – only has expressed her intention to do so.
Bragg’s long-serving Liberal member and former Attorney General announced last month that she would be leaving politics in the wake of the Liberal Party’s election loss.
Speaker Dan Cregan has since written to Ms Chapman to ask if her resignation as an MP has now come into effect, due to the terms of the South Australian constitution.
In a letter to Ms Chapman, Mr Cregan referred to an earlier letter from her in which she resigned and said she intended to start her resignation on May 31.
In response, Mr Cregan pointed to Article 30 of the 1934 Constitution of South Australia which relates to resignation from Parliament and states that “on receipt of such resignation by the Speaker, the Member’s seat shall become vacant”.
“I have sought and received advice on this important matter,” Cregan said in a statement today.
“SA bylaws appear not to allow a member to resign, but to choose a future date when their resignation can be effective.
If Ms Chapman is forced out sooner than intended, the Liberal opposition would face the prospect of contesting a by-election to keep Bragg’s blue-striped seat just after the federal election.
Mr Cregan said he was now preparing to issue the subpoena for that by-election tomorrow, but Ms Chapman has since hit back at those steps.
In a statement this afternoon, she confirmed that she had received Mr Cregan’s response to her original letter, but disputed his interpretation of it as a letter of resignation.
“I confirm that I have given notice of my intention to resign,” she said.
In his letter to Ms. Chapman, Mr. Cregan had anticipated such an argument and said it could be discussed that Ms. Chapman’s letter to himself was not a resignation, but merely an expression of intention to resign.
But he said that, if Ms Chapman were to contest the matter, it would be up to the lower house of parliament – now dominated by Labor – to determine an outcome.
Bragg gets ‘two-finger greeting’, says Labor
If Ms Chapman has to leave early, a by-election could be held as early as June in the Bragg poll, sending voters in the Adelaide seat back to the polls two weeks after the federal election.
It would also prevent the Liberal Party from pre-selecting a candidate to run in federal elections.
Bragg is safe, but the margin was halved to 8 percent in the state election and Labor candidate Rick Sarre has indicated he is willing to run again.
Mr Cregan stepped down from the Liberals in October and took the presidency weeks later in a tumultuous nighttime session of parliament.
Labor pledged last week to re-enable him as chairman when parliament resumes this week, and today rejected suggestions that the decision was calculated to exploit the resentment of liberal factions.
“I think Dan Cregan has done an excellent job as chairman,” Health Secretary Chris Picton said today.
Mr Picton accused the Liberals of running an “absolute circus” and called on opposition leader David Speirs to commit to holding further by-elections on the same day as Bragg’s.
“Since the election, we’ve had this complete, absolute circus in terms of what happens in terms of Vickie Chapman, when she goes,” said Mr Picton.
Ms Chapman told colleagues about her plan to quit the same day they met to elect Mr Speirs as the party’s new leader.
She has still not made a public statement about her resignation on her website or social media, and is awaiting findings from an ombudsman’s inquiry into decisions she made as planning minister and attorney general under the previous state government.
She stepped down as Deputy Prime Minister and Planning Minister in November, stepped down as Attorney General and was suspended from parliament during that investigation.