Turnbull threatens to refer Labor MPs to the High Court over the citizenship debacle

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull during House of Representatives question time at Parliament House. Photo: Stefan Postles/ Getty Images.

Da Nang, Vietnam — Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has ramped up the pressure on Bill Shorten by vowing the government will refer any suspicious Opposition MPs to the High Court if the Labor Leader refuses to do so.

Arriving in Vietnam late Thursday night, the Prime Minister, who spent much of his 10-hour plane journey negotiating with Mr Shorten on a way to bring the citizenship crisis to an end, was unambiguous after earlier threatening to refer Labor MPs if Mr Shorten declined to act.

By convention, each party is supposed to refer their own MPs and the government has previously warned that parties should not use their numbers to make partisan referrals to the High Court.

But it has jettisoned that approach in the belief anyone under a cloud should be referred to clear the chaos once and for all.

At least three Labor MPs, Justine Keay, Susan Lamb and Josh Wilson, as well as the Nick Xenophon Team’s Rebekah Sharkie, are under a cloud. All were dual British citizens who renounced their dual citizenship but the British government did not confirm the renunciation until after they had either nominated or had been elected.

They argue they took all reasonable steps to renounce but the recent decision by the High Court has cast serious doubt on this defence. Mr Turnbull believes they should be tested as he rejected Mr Shorten’s call for the government not to use its numbers and make partisan referrals.

Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten during House of Representatives question time at Parliament House. Photo: Stefan Postles/ Getty Images.

“We referred our own people to the High Court when we had advice that they weren’t in breach (of section 44(i) of the Constitution),” Mr Turnbull told reporters in Da Nang where he is attending the APEC leaders’ summit.

“Now, we’ve got people who, by their own admission, were UK citizens at the time they nominated and said that they were in compliance with the Constitution.

“It really is a bit rich of Mr Shorten to say to me that the government shouldn’t vote to refer them.

“We will vote to refer to the High Court anybody, whether they’re on the government side, the Labor side, or on the crossbenches, if there are substantial grounds to believe that they are not in compliance with the Constitution.

“To ask me to do anything else is quite unworthy and I’m disappointed that he made that request and that he even thought that was a proper thing to do.

“The principle we have to uphold is compliance with the Constitution.”

Mr Turnbull said if he failed to reach agreement with Mr Shorten in a disclosure regime to flush out all remaining dual citizens, the government would put its resolution to the Lower House and Senate anyway.

“The reality is we are not that far apart. The important thing is that there is full disclosure and that that is done in away that enables the House and Senate to form a judgement as to whether to refer people,” he sad.

He said he could deal with the citizenship crisis while attending APEC and the East Asia Summit.

“Multi-tasking is the occupational objective of Prime Ministers,” he said.

This article was originally published by the Australian Financial Review. Read the original here, or follow the AFR on Facebook.

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