ADDING insult to injury, the government may force Barnaby Joyce to pay back his $2.8 million salary after the High Court ruled he was ineligible to stand, which could leave the former Deputy Prime Minister bankrupt and the electorate facing another by-election.
The polls show Mr Joyce still has strong support in the electorate, and with a number of rivals dropping out of the race, former New England MP looks likely to retain his seat.
However, section 44 of the constitution – the same part that says you can't be a dual citizen - also says anyone who is bankrupt or insolvent is ineligible to stand in parliament.
A spokesperson for the Special Minister of State, Senator Scott Ryan said the matter was being investigated.
“Officials of the Department of Finance and the Department of the House of Representatives will make a determination on whether there is a debt and how that is to be calculated,” they said.
Earlier this year, the Department of Finance told former One Nation Senator Rob Culleton his $200,000-a-year salary, plus what he paid his staff and other expenses, were “a debt to the Commonwealth” after the High Court ruled he was illegible to stand.
While the Department of Finance is likely to write to the dumped politicians with a bill for salaries, allowances, superannuation and staff payments, they can easily apply to the government for a waiver.
Former Family First senator Bob Day asked for a waiver earlier this year after he was disqualified for contravening pecuniary interest elements of the constitution.
Senator Ryan agreed to the waiver, saying it was “consistent with the outcome in previous similar cases”.
Asked on Monday whether the MPs should pay back any money, acting Prime Minister Julie Bishop said: “That would be a matter of advice from the Department of Finance and that would be a matter for the Finance Minister.”
Fairfax Media put questions to Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, but they were passed on to Senator Ryan.
While the salary of Mr Joyce is in question, the money the Nationals received from the Australian Electorate Commission for his campaign is not.
If candidates receive more than four per cent of the primary preference vote, the AEC pays them for each first preference vote they got – in the 2016 election, the AEC paid about $2.62 per vote.
The Nationals were paid out more than $230,000 for Mr Joyce’s 2013 and 2016 election campaigns.
An AEC spokesperson said entitlements were based on “whether the person actually stood as a candidate and received the required minimum number of first preference votes”.
“The fact that a person has been subsequently found by the High Court to have been disqualified does not impact on that entitlement,” they said.