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Labor launches legal challenge to minister's eligibility

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Labor has launched a High Court challenge against a senior Coalition MP's eligibility to sit in parliament - a move that could threaten the Turnbull government's wafer-thin majority.

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David Gillespie, the assistant health minister and Nationals member for the NSW seat of Lyne, owns a suburban shopping complex in Port Macquarie.

One of the shops in the complex is an outlet of Australia Post, a government-owned corporation.

Labor has raised questions about the arrangement in the light of the High Court’s disqualification of former Family First senator Bob Day over an electorate office leasing deal with the government.

The ALP’s national executive decided to trigger the legal action at a meeting on Friday.

Labor’s candidate for the seat at the 2016 federal election, Peter Alley, has filed papers with the High Court.

Acting Opposition leader Tanya Plibersek believes Gillespie has a conflict of interest.

“We are not sure whether Dr Gillespie is actually, constitutionally, able to sit in the House of Representatives, whether he was properly elected, because of his conflict of interest,” she told reporters in Sydney.

“We’ve received legal advice that there is a potential conflict of interest and we’re going to test that legal advice. It’s for the court to make the determination.”

Deputy Liberal Leader Julie Bishop said the legal challenge smelt like “another Labor stunt”.

“It sounds like another attempt by Labor to disrupt and distract from the government’s policies that are clearly being effective,” Ms Bishop told reporters in Sydney.

“It comes down to a question of remoteness of interest. But we’ll wait to see what detail Labor intend to come up with.”

Bishop said she was not aware of any grounds Labor had to stand on.

Under Section 44 of the constitution, anyone with a “direct or indirect pecuniary interest” in an agreement with the commonwealth is disqualified to sit as an MP.

Gillespie has received independent legal advice there is no constitutional issue with him sitting in parliament, which the government is satisfied with.

The Nationals would be reasonably placed to retain Gillespie’s seat if a by-election were called, but the kerfuffle would be an unwanted headache for the government.

– AAP

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