Voters suffer for MP’s mess
VOTERS face the prospect of by-elections on both sides of Christmas as the federal government scrambles to sort out its citizenship crisis.
The Turnbull government has now lost its majority in the federal Parliament, with the resignation yesterday of longserving Bennelong MP John Alexander, best known as one of Australia’s greatest tennis players, who discovered he is a British citizen by descent. A senior Liberal said yesterday the government intends to ask the Australian Electoral Commission for a December 16 byelection in Bennelong. A cloud remains over the fate of at least four more MPs with questionable citizenship status.
The High Court is not presently considering the fate of any other MPs, but the resignation of Mr Alexander will see the government ramp up pressure on Mr Shorten to force at least three Labor MPs with questionable status to stand aside, pending a referral to the High Court. Nick Xenophon Team MP Rebekha Sharkie is also under fire over her citizenship status.
Federal Parliament has two more weeks of sitting before Christmas before resuming on February 5 for two weeks.
The High Court is not scheduled to sit until February so if it ruled out any further MPs they would face by-elections in or after March.
Voters in New England are due to vote on the fate of Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce, who held New Zealand citizenship, on December 2.
Speaking in Vietnam, where he is attending the APEC summit, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull revealed he had encouraged Mr Alexander to do the “right” and “honourable thing” and resign.
“John Alexander has done the right thing,” Mr Turnbull said. “If members believe they are no longer eligible to sit in Parliament, they shouldn’t sit in Parliament.” Mr Alexander said while he felt obliged to resign, he would be seeking the party’s support to recontest the seat. “Therefore, it is my obligation that I must resign, and that’s what I will do. I will seek the support of my party to contest the by-election of Bennelong,” he said.
With his British-born father never renouncing his citizenship, Mr Alexander is a dual citizen by descent but has begun the process of renouncing British citizenship.
The resignations of Mr Alexander and Mr Joyce will test the Coalition’s control over the House of Representatives for Parliament’s final 2017 sittings.
But the government says the uncertainty will not affect its plan to introduce a same-sex marriage bill should a Yes vote prevail when the result of the postal vote is announced on Wednesday. Conservative government MPs say they are working on an alternative bill with “more protections” for opponents of same-sex marriage.