It’s all turned to cit­i­zen­ship

As the dual cit­i­zen­ship cri­sis ex­pands and fuels lead­er­ship ten­sions, Mal­colm Turnbull strug­gles to plot a pol­icy course to Christ­mas. Karen Middleton re­ports.

The Saturday Paper - - Front Page - KAREN MIDDLETON is The Satur­day Paper’s chief po­lit­i­cal correspondent.

On the day the High Court’s cit­i­zen­ship judge­ment shat­tered Prime Min­is­ter Mal­colm Turnbull’s hopes of ending the year on a high, his pre­de­ces­sor Tony Ab­bott was at a rugby lunch in Syd­ney.

Ab­bott had been in­vited to make a toast at the char­ity fundraiser, run by the Cau­li­flower Club, which sup­ports in­jured play­ers and their fam­i­lies.

His con­tri­bu­tion came shortly be­fore host Peter FitzSi­mons told the gath­er­ing the High Court had just thrown Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Barn­aby Joyce and four se­na­tors out of par­lia­ment.

In the pres­ence of the sport’s lu­mi­nar­ies, the for­mer prime min­is­ter and one-time univer­sity fourth-grade for­ward out­lined his own mod­est club rugby ca­reer and re­flected on the other road he’d trav­elled.

Ab­bott joked about hav­ing been benched – or, rather, back­benched. He con­tin­ued with a metaphor his au­di­ence could well un­der­stand: the ri­valry be­tween for­wards and backs.

“I went to play a dif­fer­ent game,” he said, con­clud­ing a “toast to the backs” that he was play­ing for laughs.

“I rose through the ranks and even­tu­ally be­came the team cap­tain. Two years ago I was put on the bench, on the side­lines. And I am so keen to get back on the field, that I would even play as a back.”

It was a punch­line crafted for the oc­ca­sion and it brought the house down.

But as his strug­gling suc­ces­sor seeks a cir­cuit-breaker through an endof-year min­is­te­rial reshuf­fle, Ab­bott is not go­ing to get his wish.

A cho­rus of con­ser­va­tives is call­ing for the prime min­is­ter to be re­placed, but Ab­bott is po­si­tion­ing as the vir­tu­ous voice ad­vo­cat­ing the op­po­site. Turnbull doesn’t buy it for a sec­ond.

“We don’t want a re­volv­ing-door prime min­is­ter­ship,” Ab­bott in­sisted on 2GB this week.

“I’ve been say­ing up hill and down dale, pub­licly and pri­vately, that the era of the po­lit­i­cal as­sas­sin must end. We’ve had too many po­lit­i­cal as­sas­si­na­tions. We need a more hon­ourable polity.”

Those close to the cur­rent prime min­is­ter roll their eyes at the men­tion of hon­our. But the trou­ble for Turnbull is that he pre­sides over a par­lia­ment in which Aus­tralians see hon­our less and less.

The swelling cit­i­zen­ship cri­sis has only made that worse. Even Turnbull has now con­ceded that’s what it is.

When it was sug­gested on the

Nine Net­work’s To­day show that he was “un­der the pump”, the prime min­is­ter re­sponded: “I’m a good man in a cri­sis.”

Ac­cused of col­lud­ing to mu­tu­ally pro­tect lower house mem­bers who might yet have a con­sti­tu­tional prob­lem with dual cit­i­zen­ship, Turnbull and Op­po­si­tion Leader Bill Shorten ap­proached week’s end in a blaz­ing stand­off over how to ad­dress it.

Turnbull wanted to give MPs three weeks to present dates and places of birth for them­selves and their par­ents and de­clare re­nun­ci­a­tion de­tails of any for­eign cit­i­zen­ship.

Shorten wanted grand­par­ents’ de­tails pre­sented, too, plus doc­u­men­tary proof of re­nun­ci­a­tion and a five-day dead­line.

Turnbull ac­cused Shorten of play­ing op­por­tunist pol­i­tics, but was pre­par­ing to mod­ify his pro­posal.

Each now faces the real prospect of col­leagues be­ing re­ferred to the High Court as pos­si­bly dual cit­i­zens in breach of sec­tion 44 of the con­sti­tu­tion.

Far more than the cur­rent by­elec­tion in Barn­aby Joyce’s seat of New Eng­land, that has dra­matic im­pli­ca­tions for Turnbull’s grip on gov­ern­ment.

Those fac­ing ques­tions aren’t all on the Coali­tion’s side.

Tas­ma­nian La­bor MP Jus­tine

Keay has con­ceded that while she wrote to the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment seek­ing to re­nounce her Bri­tish cit­i­zen­ship be­fore the nom­i­na­tion dead­line ahead of last year’s fed­eral elec­tion, the re­nun­ci­a­tion was not con­firmed un­til July 11 – af­ter elec­tion day.

Queens­land La­bor MP Su­san Lamb did the same and has de­clined to make pub­lic the date on which the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment con­firmed re­nun­ci­a­tion.

It is be­lieved to be sim­i­larly af­ter the nom­i­na­tion dead­line.

Pri­vately, the gov­ern­ment be­lieves the sta­tus of at least two other op­po­si­tion MPs – West Aus­tralians Josh Wilson and Madeleine King – is also in ques­tion.

Un­like oth­ers whose sta­tus re­mains in ques­tion, Keay and Lamb are re­ly­ing on the de­fence that they took “rea­son­able steps” to re­nounce, though some se­nior La­bor fig­ures are pes­simistic they can avoid re­fer­ral.

In its re­cent judge­ment, the High Court had no truck with ig­no­rance as a de­fence.

Para­graph 72 of the judge­ment leaves the Coali­tion con­fi­dent Keay and Lamb are in trou­ble.

It de­clares: “A per­son who, at the time that he or she nom­i­nates for elec­tion, re­tains the sta­tus of sub­ject or cit­i­zen of a for­eign power will be dis­qual­i­fied by rea­son of s44 (i)”.

It makes two ex­cep­tions. The first is where a for­eign law con­flicts with the Aus­tralian con­sti­tu­tion’s im­per­a­tive that no for­eign law should per­ma­nently pre­vent an Aus­tralian from serv­ing in par­lia­ment. In other words, for­eign coun­tries can’t force their cit­i­zen­ship upon Aus­tralians and stop them run­ning for of­fice.

The sec­ond is where a per­son can demon­strate he or she has taken “all steps that are rea­son­ably re­quired by the for­eign law” to re­nounce the for­eign cit­i­zen­ship and “within his or her power”.

While Keay and Lamb are re­ly­ing on that sec­ond pro­vi­sion, there may be ar­gu­ment over what con­sti­tutes “all rea­son­able steps” and whether lodg­ing re­quests so close to the nom­i­na­tion dead­line would qual­ify.

In par­tic­u­lar, Lamb’s seat of Longman in Queens­land, won from the Lib­er­als in 2016, could be at risk for La­bor in a by­elec­tion if pref­er­ences from One Na­tion vot­ers did not flow La­bor’s way as sub­stan­tially as they did last time.

Mean­while, the sole Nick Xenophon Team MP, Re­bekha Sharkie, re­vealed her re­nun­ci­a­tion of Bri­tish cit­i­zen­ship was con­firmed af­ter her nom­i­na­tion for the 2016 elec­tion. She, too, will hope this will be re­garded as hav­ing taken “rea­son­able steps”.

Two Lib­eral MPs with Greek parent­age, Vic­to­rian back­bencher Ju­lia Banks and New South Wales front­bencher Alex Hawke, have also had queries raised about Greek cit­i­zen­ship by de­scent. Both in­sist they are solely Aus­tralian but have not yet pro­duced ev­i­dence.

The Lib­eral MP for John Howard’s old seat of Ben­ne­long, for­mer ten­nis star John Alexan­der, has asked the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment about his sta­tus, based on his late fa­ther hav­ing been born in Bri­tain.

Alexan­der says he be­lieves his fa­ther, who ar­rived in Aus­tralia in

1911, re­nounced his Bri­tish cit­i­zen­ship be­tween Jan­uary 26, 1949, when Aus­tralian cit­i­zen­ship first came into ex­is­tence, and 1951, when John was born.

En­vi­ron­ment and En­ergy Min­is­ter Josh Fry­den­berg is the son of a Bu­dapest­born mother, stripped of Hun­gar­ian cit­i­zen­ship be­cause she was Jewish, whose fam­ily fled the Holo­caust for Aus­tralia and whose immigration pa­pers on ar­rival were marked “state­less”.

But a change to Hun­gar­ian law in 2011 – the year af­ter Fry­den­berg en­tered par­lia­ment – has raised queries about whether Hun­gar­ian cit­i­zen­ship may have been im­posed on his mother and there­fore on him by de­scent with­out their knowl­edge or agree­ment.

Fry­den­berg’s case, should it be re­ferred to the court, may well qual­ify as an ex­cep­tion un­der para­graph 72. Only the court can de­ter­mine that. Fry­den­berg is seek­ing le­gal ad­vice.

Turnbull has at­tacked as “unAus­tralian” those who raise ques­tions about Fry­den­berg ’s sta­tus.

“You’ve got peo­ple in the me­dia say­ing Josh Fry­den­berg is a cit­i­zen of the coun­try that would have gassed his mother,” Turnbull told the Nine Net­work.

Se­nior La­bor fig­ures have ex­pressed sim­i­lar sen­ti­ment.

But al­though un­wit­tingly be­ing made a cit­i­zen in such cir­cum­stances may seem hor­ri­fy­ing, emo­tion is not enough to ren­der it un­true.

The law does not take ac­count of feel­ings or be­lief, as the High Court demon­strated in what At­tor­ney-Gen­eral Ge­orge Bran­dis called its “bru­tal” judge­ment.

Bill Shorten con­tin­ues to in­sist that La­bor’s pre-nom­i­na­tion check­ing pro­cesses have been good enough to pre­vent un­wit­ting dual cit­i­zens slip­ping through. He’s cling­ing to the high moral ground.

“This is a cit­i­zen­ship cri­sis not of La­bor’s mak­ing,” he said on Thurs­day.

“But it is most se­ri­ous… not just be­cause the gov­ern­ment’s in trou­ble, but be­cause the Aus­tralian peo­ple are los­ing con­fi­dence in the gov­ern­ment and the par­lia­ment.”

The cit­i­zen­ship dra­mas have fur­ther com­pli­cated Turnbull’s plans to reshuf­fle his min­istry when par­lia­ment rises for the year.

Spe­cial Min­is­ter of State Scott Ryan is now a fron­trun­ner to swap min­istry for se­nate pres­i­dency in the wake of in­cum­bent Stephen Parry’s abrupt de­par­ture last week on dual cit­i­zen­ship grounds.

Should Ryan pre­vail when Lib­eral se­na­tors make their choice as the se­nate re­sumes on Mon­day, there will be yet an­other va­cancy in the min­istry. Turnbull is ex­pected to park that port­fo­lio with an­other min­is­ter tem­po­rar­ily un­til he can un­veil a new line-up.

Parry’s de­par­ture leaves Tas­ma­nia un­rep­re­sented among ei­ther min­is­ters or par­lia­men­tary of­fice-bear­ers.

The Satur­day Paper un­der­stands his Tas­ma­nian col­league, se­na­tor

David Bushby, is likely to be el­e­vated into the outer min­istry to re­solve that ge­o­graph­i­cal im­bal­ance.

Usu­ally a stren­u­ous Ab­bott sup­porter, Tas­ma­nian con­ser­va­tive

Eric Abetz has changed his tune about the cur­rent prime min­is­ter in re­cent days, leav­ing some spec­u­lat­ing about his mo­tives.

Fol­low­ing Parry’s de­par­ture and Turnbull’s an­nounce­ment about a cit­i­zen­ship check, Abetz sud­denly di­alled up his praise.

“The lead­er­ship of the prime min­is­ter in this sit­u­a­tion, I think, is to be ap­plauded be­cause it will now en­able the whole sit­u­a­tion to be re­solved,” Abetz told Sky News on Tues­day.

Turnbull sup­port­ers noted the shift. But Abetz will not be pro­moted ei­ther.

The prime min­is­ter has to wait for the vot­ers’ ver­dict in New Eng­land be­fore he can un­veil the new min­istry, which he hopes will rep­re­sent a fresh start head­ing into 2018.

Al­though they are ex­pected to re­turn Joyce to par­lia­ment, that won’t be con­firmed un­til the fi­nal par­lia­men­tary week for the year – the week that’s known as “the killing sea­son” for vul­ner­a­ble lead­ers.

Turnbull joined the pop­u­lar lo­cal can­di­date at the Mel­bourne Cup day races in Tam­worth on Tues­day, giv­ing rise to an in­ter­est­ing ques­tion: Was Turnbull cam­paign­ing for Joyce, or the other way around?

De­spite the howls from Turnbull’s Lib­eral de­trac­tors, there is no al­ter­na­tive can­di­date for leader at present.

Ab­bott’s sup­port within the par­lia­men­tary party re­mains in sin­gle dig­its. Immigration Min­is­ter Peter Dut­ton’s recog­ni­tion among vot­ers is low. For­eign Min­is­ter Julie Bishop rates best but she doesn’t have enough sup­port from col­leagues to claim the job per­ma­nently.

That leaves Turnbull firmly in place, seek­ing to nav­i­gate through to Christ­mas with the added com­pli­ca­tion of po­ten­tial ob­struc­tion and in­creas­ing de­mands from con­ser­va­tives, should next week’s re­sult in the same-sex mar­riage sur­vey come back “yes”.

Be­tween now and then, Turnbull faces the like­li­hood of a clutch of MPs and se­na­tors be­ing re­ferred to the High Court for an­other round of ad­ju­di­ca­tion on cit­i­zen­ship.

That could lead to more dan­ger­ous by­elec­tions in Fe­bru­ary or March, se­ri­ously threat­en­ing his one-seat ma­jor­ity.

On his trip to Is­rael last week, Turnbull was asked if he ever thought about walk­ing away from the dif­fi­cult top job. “I’ve never had more fun in my life,” he de­clared.

A week on, that sen­ti­ment would likely get a big­ger laugh than Ab­bott’s

• toast.

Prime Min­is­ter Mal­colm Turnbull this week.

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