Outspoken Queensland senator and resources minister Matt Canavan has stood down from the Turnbull ministry because he’s a dual Australian-Italian citizen, in breach of the Constitution.
Canavan’s Australian-born mother has Italian heritage, and when she took Italian citizenship in 2006, she also registered other members of her family, including her son, who was 25 at the time, and was registered as an Italian resident abroad in 2007.
His mother told him about the issue last week and the Italian Embassy has him registered as an Italian citizen. Canavan told the prime minister and attorney-general George Brandis on Monday.
He held a brief media conference with Brandis in Brisbane to announce he would resign as a minister.
Canavan was born in Australia and says he has never been to Italy and did not sign any documents to receive citizenship there.
The attorney-general said that his registration as an Italian citizen “was obtained without senator Canavan’s knowledge or consent”.
The government plans to take the matter to the High Court in a bid to retain senator Canavan, asking the court for its views on citizenship by descent.
“Until last week, I had no suspicion I could possibly be an Italian citizen,” he said.
“It is not my intention to resign from the Senate. However, given the uncertainty raised by this matter, I will stand aside until the matter is finally resolved, and resign as the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia.”
Section 44 of the Constitution bars people with citizenship in a country other than Australian from standing for election.
The Greens lost their two co-deputy leaders, Western Australia’s Scott Ludlam and Queensland’s Larissa Waters within days earlier this month after discovering they had New Zealand and Canadian citizenship respectively.
As resources minister, Canavan oversees what is overwhelmingly Australia’s biggest export sector. The mining industry is currently going through significant transition, following a record investment boom that has now led to record highs in export volumes.
Canavan has also been a key tactical player in some of the government’s major policy announcements and is seen as a smart media operator.
The minister is a strong supporter of Indian company Adani’s controversial $16 billion Carmichael coal mine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin in a vocal public campaign against opponents.
When Westpac revealed its new Climate Change Action Plan in April, which effectively ruled out funding the mine, the minister accused the bank of being un-Australian and urged people to shift their accounts because Westpac “turned its back” on Queensland.
He’s also campaigning to bring a State of Origin match to Townsville in 2020.
Canavan, 36, entered the senate in 2014 following the 2013 election, representing Queensland’s Liberal National Party.
Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull said Nationals leader and deputy PM Barnaby Joyce will take on Canavan’s ministerial roles until his status is resolved.
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