At least five lower house MPs, four of them Labor, appear headed for the High Court and a cloud hangs over at least four members of the Coalition, following the release of citizenship declarations of the 150 members of the House of Representatives.
Should all or some be dismissed for being in breach of section 44(i) of the constitution, there will be a “super Saturday” of byelections in early 2018 that could have critical implications for the stability of government and possibly cause a change of government.
Victorian Labor MP David Feeney told Parliament he had renounced dual British citizenship 10 years ago but never received confirmation. A desperate search to try to find documents to verify his claim had so far been fruitless, so he volunteered to be referred to the High Court.
“My status in law remans unclear,” he said.
He is likely to be followed by lower house colleagues Justine Keay (Tasmania), Josh Wilson (WA), Susan Lamb (Qld), as well as the NXT’s Rebekha Sharkie (SA), all of whom declared they were dual British citizens at the time they were nominated as candidates before the last election.
All had undertaken the proper process to renounce their dual citizenship, but the renunciation was not confirmed until after they had either been nominated or elected.
All provided legal advice contending they had “taken all reasonable steps” to renounce their citizenship, the fault lay with the British Home Office for not processing them quickly enough, and they were therefore not in breach of the constitution.
But strictly speaking they were dual citizens at the time of nomination for Parliament and a black-letter interpretation of section 44(i) will see them dismissed and byelections ordered.
Only Ms Lamb may be spared. Her father was Scottish and she declared herself a dual citizen at the time of nomination but she also furnished a letter sent to her in August last year from the British Home Office, more than a month after the election, saying the documentation she provided meant they could not be satisfied she held British citizenship and “the application (to renounce) has therefore been refused”.
Liberals in the gun
While the above five MPs are now almost certain to be referred, especially after Labor leader Bill Shorten appeared to back away on Tuesday from his initial refusal to do so, at least four Liberal MPs are in the gun, and maybe more.
Liberal Jason Falinksi, who holds the NSW seat of Mackellar, has a Russian father, He declared he had legal advice clearing him of dual citizenship but refuses to release it. Similarly, Nola Marino, of the WA seat of Forrest, said she has advice clearing her of acquiring Italian citizenship by marriage, but refuses to release the advice. Ross Vasta, of the Queensland seat of Bonner, says he renounced his Italian passport yeas ago but has provided no documentation.
And Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg, whose Hungarian mother fled the holocaust and was declared stateless, says he has legal advice from Australia, Poland and Hungary saying he is in the clear.
Labor sources said if Mr Feeney was prepared to refer himself to the High Court on the basis he believed he was in the clear but could not prove it, then the above four Liberals refusing or unable to furnish advice or documentation should do the same. Labor will be pushing this hard on Wednesday.
Furthermore, Labor doubts the bona fides of four more Coalition MPs – Julia Banks, Alex Hawke, Michael McCormack and Arthur Sinodinos – all of who have Greek heritage and have furnished a letter from the Greek embassy clearing them.
Earlier Tuesday, Mr Shorten hinted Labor would refer its own suspect MPs to the High Court, as the government ramped up its threat to do it for him.
“We are prepared once all the disclosures are in, not just in the Senate but in the House of Reps, we will sit down with the government and the crossbench and hopefully in a bipartisan way, work our way forward once the disclosures are in,” Mr Shorten said.
Call for self-referral
On Monday, when the Senate disclosures were released, it was confirmed that ACT Labor Senator Katy Gallagher did renounce her dual British citizenship before the last election but it was only registered six weeks after election day, meaning she was technically a dual citizen when elected.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the government would use its numbers to refer Senator Gallagher and others if Labor did not.
“We are looking at the particulars at the moment lodged by her. It does appear that she is in an indistinguishable position to others, but that is a decision that will be made in the very near future,” he said.
“I might point out that when Coalition and Senate crossbench politicians have discovered that they have a problem, they have self-referred.
“No Labor politician so far has taken the appropriate course. We would hope that if it appears on reflection on careful study by the Labor Party that Senator Gallagher is in the same positions as those who have been referred, they would agree to her referral.”
Already eight MPs and Senators have been dismissed for breaching section 44(i): They are Nationals Barnaby Joyce and Fiona Nash, Liberals John Alexander and Stephen Parry, Independent Jacqui Lambie, Greens Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters, NXT’s Skye Kakoschke-Moore, and One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts.
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