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Meet the 22-year-old set become an instant senator

Jordon Steele-John, on the campaign trail with Senator Scott Ludlam, never expected to replace him.
Jordon Steele-John, on the campaign trail with Senator Scott Ludlam, never expected to replace him.

THE last thing Jordon Steele-John could have expected while campaigning for the Federal Election was that he'd actually win.

Helping ensure that the Greens' popular co-deputy Senator Scott Ludlam kept his seat was the name of the game when Mr Steele-John ran third on the Greens' West Australian senate ticket at last year's election.

But the 22-year-old university student has been suddenly thrust into the limelight by Mr Ludlam's shock resignation, as he's tipped to be next in line for the seat if it goes to a countback.

It would make him the youngest sitting federal politician after Labor's Wyatt Roy, who was elected in 2010 at the age of 20, lost his house of representatives seat last year.

Mr Ludlam stepped down on Friday after learning that, unbeknown to him, he held dual New Zealand citizenship - making him ineligible to stand for parliament under Section 44 of the Australian constitution.

If a recount is ordered, Mr Steele-John is understood to be next in line for the seat - meaning he could become an instant senator.

However, he is reportedly being urged to step aside and allow a more experienced Greens candidate to step into the void.

The disability advocate, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, has gone to ground since the news of his predicament broke, with the Greens emailing journalists requesting that they "respect Mr Steele-John's privacy" - a bizarre request given that he ran for public office.

On Friday afternoon, he hinted at bowing out, saying in a Facebook post: "If it comes down to it, I'd be happier putting the choice of candidate back into the hands of our party membership."

'TIME TO TAKE STOCK'

Mr Steele-John is understood to have come under party pressure to decline if a countback results in him being handed the seat, the Daily Telegraph reports, with favoured candidates named as lawyer and domestic violence campaigner Kate Davis and State prosecutor Hannah Milligan.

Ms David ran for the Greens in Fremantle at last year's Federal election, while Ms Milligan was the party's candidate for the State seat of Perth in March.

If a countback is ordered and Mr Steele-John is the winner, it will be up to him whether to grasp the opportunity with both hands, or decline so that a casual vacancy is declared. Then the party would select a candidate to be endorsed by the parliament.

"Whatever decisions I make in the coming weeks will be made solely with reference to the interests and principles of The Greens a movement of which I am so proud to be a part," Mr Steele-John said in a statement, adding that his age and disability had no relevance.

"As a party and as a movement, we need to give ourselves a moment to grieve, take stock, and reflect upon our proud history as a group of people committed to putting collective principle and responsibility before personal advancement. It is my desire to facilitate this process in the most positive and constructive way possible."

The outcome will remain unknown for several weeks, as the Court of Disputed Returns in the High Court must first make an official ruling on whether Mr Ludlam breached the constitutional requirement that elected representatives hold only Australian citizenship. The Senate will refer the matter to the court when parliament returns next month.

WHO IS JORDON STEELE-JOHN?

Mr Steele-John is studying politics by correspondence through Macquarie University, while working in disability advocacy.

"Age is not necessarily a corollary with wisdom," he told the Guardian Express while campaigning last year.

"Older Australians have an incredible amount to offer and that should be respected, but there is also a real need in Australian politics for younger voices to be heard."

Along with the Greens' core issue of climate change, he said he was passionate about accessible education and affordable housing.

While running for the WA state election earlier this year, he cited the Gillard Government's so-called "Malaysian Solution" to asylum seekers arriving by boat as the "final straw" that prompted his turn away from the Labor allegiance of his family.

"I knew then that both [major] parties had signed up to the type of cynical and dehumanising politics which always ultimately leads to cruelty, and I knew that I could not be part of it," he said at the time.

On his Facebook page, Mr Steele-John's friends and supporters have posted messages ranging from "you should absolutely take it on" to calls for caution.

"Terrible circumstances but a great opportunity Jordan. You have my support if you go for it," Tracy Kilian wrote.

"It's your dream is it not, and it's by circumstances fallen into your lap. Take the opportunity," Clay Fairs wrote, adding: "It reminds me of the chat I had with Scott at the Beeliar Wetlands gig in Fremantle. Your name was raised in conversation and his response to my comment was 'don't worry, we will find him a seat'. I don't think we were expecting it to be his, but life can play out in interesting ways."

But, another friend Sam Jenky pointed out, running third on a Senate ticket carried different expectations than running for a winnable seat.

"You are thinking things through, taking time and looking to our first principles of grassroots democracy ... There's lots for the party to consider and there is time."

'HAPPY TO LET THE PARTY DECIDE'

Earlier, Mr Stelle-John said in a Facebook post that while a countback could "in theory put me in the position of having to decide whether or not to accept the role", he was still grappling with the shock of Mr Ludlam's departure.

"Like everyone else in the party I'm going to be spending the next week in sad shock and/or swearing loudly into a pillow," he wrote.

"Luckily there's a lot of process in the senate, the court and the party before any of that becomes something to think about. If it comes down to it, I'd be happier putting the choice of candidate back into the hands of our party membership."

Asked about his potential replacement on Lateline on Friday, Mr Ludlam said: "Jordan is wonderful, and I think he would be great, but there are a whole heap of steps to go through first which have nothing to do with the Greens."

He added that Mr Steele-John's name "may well come up" if a countback were ordered, but that "we're several layers of hypothetical deep so we're just going to have to wait and see how that all plays out".

News.com.au has sought further comment from Mr Steele-John.

'TIME TO TAKE STOCK'

Mr Steele-John is understood to have come under party pressure to decline if a countback results in him being handed the seat, the Daily Telegraph reports, with favoured candidates named as lawyer and domestic violence campaigner Kate Davis and State prosecutor Hannah Milligan.

Ms David ran for the Greens in Fremantle at last year's Federal election, while Ms Milligan was the party's candidate for the State seat of Perth in March.

If a countback is ordered and Mr Steele-John is the winner, it will be up to him whether to grasp the opportunity with both hands, or decline so that a casual vacancy is declared. Then the party would select a candidate to be endorsed by the parliament.

"Whatever decisions I make in the coming weeks will be made solely with reference to the interests and principles of The Greens a movement of which I am so proud to be a part," Mr Steele-John said in a statement, adding that his age and disability had no relevance.

"As a party and as a movement, we need to give ourselves a moment to grieve, take stock, and reflect upon our proud history as a group of people committed to putting collective principle and responsibility before personal advancement. It is my desire to facilitate this process in the most positive and constructive way possible."

The outcome will remain unknown for several weeks, as the Court of Disputed Returns in the High Court must first make an official ruling on whether Mr Ludlam breached the constitutional requirement that elected representatives hold only Australian citizenship. The Senate will refer the matter to the court when parliament returns next month.

News Corp Australia

Topics:  editors picks greens jordan steele john resignation scott ludlam senator


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