The four – Howard government defence minister John Moore, Hawke government minister Barry Cohen and Labor MPs Barry Cunningham and Anthony Lamb – employed the same legal principle made noteworthy by the Australian comedy movie The Castle.
They argued their entitlements under the Superannuation Act and to a life gold travel pass were their property which had been acquired by the Commonwealth other than on the just terms required by a section in the Constitution.
High Court judges unanimously held that amendments to legislation and rulings by the Remuneration Tribunal did not constitute acquisition of property.
A majority held that changes to the life gold pass legislation, reducing return air trips for retired MPs from an unlimited number to 25 and now 10, also did not constitute acquisition of property other than on just terms.
In The Castle, the Aussie battler Kerrigan family resort to the High Court when developers seek to acquire their home to expand an airport.
The case hinged on Section 51 (xxxi) of the Constitution which says that property can’t be acquired other than on just terms.
Entitlements for politicians, past and present, remain deeply controversial and have been progressively wound back from their most generous heights.
The High Court directed that the four meet the unspecified but likely substantial cost of their challenge.
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