Vot­ers suf­fer for MP’s mess

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - NEWS - LINDA SILMALIS CHIEF RE­PORTER

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.

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