Robert Wood (Australian politician)

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Robert Wood
Senator for New South Wales
In office
11 July 1987 – 12 May 1988 [a]
Succeeded byIrina Dunn
Personal details
Born (1949-11-13) 13 November 1949 (age 68)
Gateshead, England
NationalityAustralian [b]
Political partyNuclear Disarmament Party
OccupationSocial worker

William Robert Wood (born 13 November 1949) is a UK-born Australian who has campaigned on peace and justice issues. He was elected to the Australian Parliament in the 1987 elections as Senator for New South Wales, however the High Court subsequently declared his election was invalid as he was not an Australian citizen at the time.[1]


Robert Wood was born in Gateshead in England. His father was an English steelworker; his mother was Italian.[2] The family emigrated to Australia in 1963 as assisted passage migrants.[3] Wood studied social work in both Sydney and Melbourne, and had a career as a youth and social worker prior to becoming a member of parliament.[4] However, he was unemployed at the time of his election, with one newspaper suggesting he was 'probably the only Member of Parliament to have been elected while on the dole'.[5] Wood has two children.[6]

Wood and the Nuclear Disarmament Party[edit]

Wood was a member of the Nuclear Disarmament Party (NDP), and was its candidate at the NSW Vaucluse by-election in 1986.[7] The NDP had failed narrowly to win a Senate seat in the 1984 federal election, when Midnight Oil singer Peter Garrett had stood under the party's banner. In 1987, the party had a lower profile, and Wood was at the head of its NSW Senate ticket. Though the party received only 1.53 per cent of the vote, Wood was elected as a result of preference flows from other parties, and the quota being nearly halved due to a double dissolution election for all Senate seats.[8] This was the lowest primary vote ever received by a successful minor party or independent candidate in an Australian Senate election, until 2013 when Ricky Muir was elected on a primary vote of 0.51%.[9]

Wood took his place in the Senate in August 1987.

Nile v Wood[edit]

Nile v Wood
Coat of Arms of Australia.svg
CourtHigh Court of Australia as the Court of Disputed Returns
Decided25 December 1987
Citation(s)[1987] HCA 62, (1987) 167 CLR 133

He immediately faced a court challenge from one of the unsuccessful candidates in the election, the Call to Australia party's Elaine Nile.[10] This case was heard by the High Court sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns. There were four grounds of challenge set out in the petition:

  • Wood has been convicted of the offence of obstructing shipping, being an offence which carries a term of imprisonment;
  • Wood had been convicted in 1972 of offences in relation to National Service, and served a term of imprisonment;
  • Wood was insolvent; and
  • His actions against the vessels of a friendly nation indicate allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power.[11]

The High Court, Brennan, Deane and Toohey JJ, dismissed the petition in December 1987 on technical grounds. The brief judgment made a number of observations about section 44 of the Constitution[12]

  • The disqualification is not simply for the conviction of an offence, but the person must be serving a sentence of imprisonment for one year or more or "subject to be sentenced" for that offence.[c] Thus a person is not disqualified after the sentence has been served.[13]
  • the person must have been adjudged to be an "undischarged insolvent"
  • the allegation of allegiance to a foreign power did not identify the foreign power nor the acknowledgement of that allegiance.[11]

Re Wood[edit]

Re Wood
Coat of Arms of Australia.svg
CourtHigh Court of Australia as the Court of Disputed Returns
Decided12 May 1988
Citation(s)[1988] HCA 22, (1987) 167 CLR 145

When Wood applied for a passport some months after entering parliament, it transpired that while he was a long term resident of Australia, he was a citizen of the United Kingdom and had only obtained Australian citizenship on 3 February 1988.[14] The High Court unanimously determined on 12 May 1988 that as he was not an Australian citizen prior to 3 February 1988, he was not entitled to be nominated for election as a senator case and therefore had never been validly elected. The decision was based on the explicit requirement in the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, that a candidate must be an Australian citizen.[15] The High Court followed Vardon v O'Loghlin,[16] as to the consequence of the void election. Wood's presence in the Senate did not invalidate the proceedings of the Senate.[16] In this case they held that the vacancy could be filled by the further counting or recounting of the ballot papers.[1] The High Court expressly declined to rule on the question of whether being a dual citizen of the United Kingdom would also disqualify a candidate from election.[d]


The recount of the ballot resulted in the election in his place of Irina Dunn, who had been second on the ticket of the NDP. Further controversy occurred when the NDP asked Dunn to resign so that Wood could reclaim his seat, following his assumption of Australian citizenship in 1988. Dunn refused, resulting in her expulsion from the party, and she remained in parliament as an independent until her defeat in the 1990 election. Wood contested that election as the first-ranked candidate for the Nuclear Disarmament Party in New South Wales, polling just over 1 per cent of the vote - more than his former running-mate Dunn, but nowhere near enough to be competitive for a Senate spot.[17]

Wood and the Australian Democrats[edit]

Wood then moved to Victoria and joined the Australian Democrats in 1990.[18] Internal disagreements within the Australian Democrats resulted in the departure of Victorian Senator Janet Powell from the party leadership in August 1991, and she resigned from the party altogether in 1992, contesting the 1993 Senate election under her own party banner, the Janet Powell Independents' Network.[19] Wood became the Democrats' lead candidate for the Victorian Senate in the 1993 federal election. He polled 3.93 per cent of the vote, but preferences were unable to get him elected.[20]

Extra-parliamentary activism[edit]

Wood campaigned on various peace and justice issues throughout his life. Wood was arrested and jailed in 1972 for refusing to be conscripted to fight in the Vietnam War.[21] He was a founding member of Sydney-based disarmament protest groups, Paddlers for Peace and Sydney Peace Squadron. He was arrested as a result of disarmament protest activities both before and after his time in the Senate.[22] Wood was also active in numerous community-based organisations that assisted people to overcome social and economic disadvantage. During his brief Senate career he had been a member of the Joint Parliamentary Liaison Group on AIDS, and launched the Democrats' policy on AIDS during the 1993 campaign.[23]


  1. ^ Wood's election was declared by the High Court to be invalid as he was not an Australian citizen at the time.[1]
  2. ^ Wood became an Australian citizen on 3 February 1988.[1]
  3. ^ A phrase subsequently considered by the High Court in Re Culleton (No 2) [2017] HCA 4.
  4. ^ The High Court subsequently decided that a dual citizen of the United Kingdom was disqualified from election in Sue v Hill [1999] HCA 30, (1999) 199 CLR 462.


  1. ^ a b c d Re Wood [1988] HCA 22, (1988) 167 CLR 145.
  2. ^ Paul Willoughby, 'A splash of colour in a grey world', The Advertiser (Adelaide), 23 Jan 1988
  3. ^ David Solomon, 'Doubt on Senator may force new poll', The Australian, 13 February 1988
  4. ^ Parliamentary Handbook, 1987 edition, Canberra
  5. ^ Keith Scott, 'Robert Wood: a man committed to peace', Canberra Times, 12 November 1987.
  6. ^ 'Parenthood is No. 1 for anti-nuclear Senator', The West-Australian, 26 Aug 1987
  7. ^ Be Bonham (15 Jun 1986). "Nine face charges in N-protest". The Sydney Morning Herald. p. 7.
  8. ^ Australian Government and Politics Database, Commonwealth Parliament, Senate election in New South Wales, 1987, retrieved July 2007
  9. ^ Green, A. "Ricky Muir's strange path to the senate".
  10. ^ "Nile will challenge activist's election". The Canberra Times. 25 Aug 1987.
  11. ^ a b Nile v Wood [1987] HCA 62, (1987) 167 CLR 133.
  12. ^ Constitution (Cth) s 44 Disqualification.
  13. ^ Kalokerinos, J (2001). "Who May Sit? An Examination of the Parliamentary Disqualification Provisions of the Commonwealth Constitution". Papers on Parliament. Parliament of Australia.
  14. ^ Holland, I (2004). "Section 44 of the Constitution". Department of the Parliamentary Library. Archived from the original on 11 June 2007.
  15. ^ Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (Cth) s 163 Qualifications for nomination.
  16. ^ a b Vardon v O'Loghlin [1907] HCA 69, (1907) 5 CLR 201.
  17. ^ Department of the Parliamentary Library, Parliamentary Handbook, 1991, p. 439
  18. ^ Sally Gibson, '"Three way fight" for sixth senator', The Sunday Age, 14 March 1993
  19. ^ Margaret Easterbrook, 'Powell takes an independent gamble', The Age, 12 Feb 1993
  20. ^ Department of the Parliamentary Library, Parliamentary Handbook, 1993, p. 501. The figure of 3.93 per cent comprises the 3.46 per cent Democrat list vote plus 0.47 per cent of votes cast for him individually (ie. 'below the line')
  21. ^ "Robert Wood: a man committed to peace". The Canberra Times. 12 November 1987. p. 19 – via National Library of Australia.
  22. ^ 'Parenthood is No. 1 for anti-nuclear Senator', The West-Australian, 26 Aug 1987
  23. ^ Australian Democrats, Democrats Launch AIDS Policy, Media Release, 23 February 1993