The worst case scenario for Malcolm Turnbull’s knife-edge government could potentially occur because a Liberal MP has a Greek father.
Julia Banks, who won the Victorian seat of Chisholm in last July’s election – the only seat the Coalition won from Labor – could potentially be a Greek-Australian citizen, according to Fairfax Media.
If so, and she was forced to resign from parliament, a by-election has the potential to destroy the government’s one seat majority.
Section 44 of the Constitution bars people with citizenship in a country other than Australia from standing for election. Two Greens senators resigned from parliament earlier this month after discovering they were dual citizens because of their birthplace, while former Turnbull government minister Matt Canavan stepped down from Cabinet this week, saying his mother registered the Australian-born Queensland senator as an Italian citizen a decade ago, but did not tell him.
Canavan plans to test the issue in the High Court.
Doubts also continue over the status of One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts, who had a Welsh father and appears to have been a British citizen, despite previous denials, but claims he renounced it on the eve of last year’s election. Roberts has refused to provide documents showing when his citizenship ended, blaming the “twitterati” for misrepresenting them if he did, but says he’s “very confident” he’s in the clear.
Speculation that Banks may be a dual national is based on Greek citizenship rules that say: “A person acquires Greek citizenship at the time of birth, if said person is born to a parent of Greek nationality – that is, the offspring of a Greek citizen, even if the parent has not exercised his/her right to citizenship”.
A spokesperson for the Greek embassy told Fairfax that while Banks was automatically conferred citizenhip, it needed to be “activated”.
Former Greens co-leader Larissa Waters fell foul of similar laws. She was born in Winnipeg, Canada, to Australian parents, left as an 11-month-old baby and never went back, but the law was changed a week after she was born, requiring her to renounce her Canadian citizenship, rather than taking it up when she was 21.
Banks was unavailable for comment to Fairfax, but she told The Australian that she had never taken up Greek citizenship.
Fairfax Media spoke to constitutional law professor George Williams, who said the critical question was whether Banks was entered onto the Greek roll.
“The requirement under Australian law is that she take every reasonable step to divest herself of citizenship rights from another country. And so the question is has she divested herself of those rights if they are conferred upon her?” Williams said.
Fairfax has more here.