The Turnbull government faces an anxious wait with one of its Lower House MPs checking his citizenship, just hours after the Prime Minister announced a new disclosure regime to draw a line under the saga.
The Liberal member for the semi-marginal Sydney seat of Bennelong, John Alexander, is trying to confirm whether his British-born father, now deceased, renounced his UK citizenship. If not, Mr Alexander, a former tennis player, would be in a similar situation to now former senators Fiona Nash and Stephen Parry, both of whom have fallen foul of section 44(i) of the Constitution for having British fathers and automatically being UK citizens by descent.
But because Mr Alexander is from the Lower House and not in a safe seat, if he was dismissed, it would force yet another by-election on the government and leave it fighting for its one-seat majority. It is currently fighting a byelection in former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce’s seat of New England but Mr Joyce is expected to win comfortably. Nonetheless, Mr Turnbull will campaign in New England on Tuesday.
The revelation about Mr Alexander by Fairfax Media came just after Malcolm Turnbull accepted more MPs may fall as he proposed a new disclosure regime in which all 226 federal politicians declare to Parliament they are not dual citizens and provide the evidence to back it up. The move quelled dissent in the party by some, such as Eric Abetz, who had been calling for an audit.
Mr Alexander’s spokesman said the MP “believes his dad renounced his UK citizenship in the 41 years he lived in Australia before John was born, but of course he will fully participate in the process that the PM has just announced today”. Mr Alexander has already told the Liberal Party federal director Andrew Hirst, who has run the ruler over all MPs, that he believed his father renounced.
Stopping short of an audit, which has been demanded by the minor parties, Mr Turnbull said the new disclosure requirements would be a permanent feature of this and future Parliaments.
Despite receiving assurances from party officials there were no more Liberals with secret dual citizenship, Mr Turnbull said he could not rule out more people in the current Parliament being sent to the High Court or choosing to jump first.
“There may well be a number of line-ball cases and it may be that they end up in the High Court,” Mr Turnbull said.
“It may well give rise to more cases, we don’t know, lets not jump ahead of ourselves.
“People may come to the conclusion that they are not eligible and they may choose to resign.”
Under the proposal, for which Labor has indicated in-principle support, current MPs and senators would have to provide the information within 21 days of resolutions passing both houses when they next sit.
That is next week for the Senate and the last week of November for the House of Representatives. New MPs in this and future Parliaments would have to register their details within 21 days of being sworn in.
All MPs and senators will have to provide to the registrar of members interests a statement declaring that at the time they nominated for election, they were not, to the best their knowledge and belief, a citizen of any country other than Australia.
They must also declare the place and date of their birth, that of their parents, and provide birth certificates for themselves and their parents.
And they must declare wether they ever held dual citizenship, where it was held, when they held it and when it was renounced. Supporting documentation would have to be provided.
Making a false declaration would amount to a breach of parliamentary privilege.
“The political consequences alone would be very, very dramatic. Clearly, if they were a citizen of another country and said they weren’t, clearly the immediate consequence would be they would be out of Parliament,” Mr Turnbull said.
The idea is similar to a declaration process Labor has been proposing.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said he would meet Mr Turnbull on Wednesday to discuss the idea but suspected it was motivated by more bad news to come for the government.
“For reasons that I don’t think are fully clear to Australians yet, the Prime Minister has had a last-minute change of heart and now he’s seeking to engage with me about how we restore the Australian people’s confidence in our parliament,” he said.
“I don’t know the reasons why the Prime Minister has changed his mind. I did say at the time that I suspected his reluctance to act meant he was hiding something or that he knew something the Australian people didn’t know.
“I made my offer in good faith and I will stand by my offer to try and resolve this crisis together in a bipartisan basis with the government.”
Labor believes none of its MPs has anything to fear and Mr Turnbull said the Liberal Party federal director Andrew Hirst had assured him all remaining Liberals were compliant with section 44(i) of the Constitution.
“This is not an audit, there is no audit,” Mr Turnbull said.
“This is putting responsibility plainly where it resides.
“The obligation is on each member and each senator to make a full disclosure.”
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