Lud­lam’s neme­sis on scalps he’s claimed, oth­ers he’s af­ter

The Weekend Australian - - POLITICS IN TURMOIL - VIC­TO­RIA LAU­RIE

Bar­ris­ter John Cameron doesn’t come across as a zealot. When the bearded 78-year-old isn’t meet­ing clients for the few pro bono cases he chooses to take on, he’s dressed in shorts and sweat­shirt, walk­ing sev­eral kilo­me­tres a day as part of a soli­tary fit­ness regime.

But there’s no doubt­ing his al­most re­li­gious zeal for up­hold­ing con­sti­tu­tional law, or the po­lit­i­cal havoc he has un­leashed since out­ing Scott Lud­lam as a dual cit­i­zen in July.

There are more twists than a game of Snakes and Lad­ders to the story of this in­tensely pri­vate Perth bar­ris­ter, who like Lud­lam was born in New Zealand.

Any­one fa­mil­iar with his ca­reer knows his na­ture — dogged, per­sis­tent and usu­ally on the side of the un­der­dog. So why his ob­ses­sion with in­ves­ti­gat­ing the cit­i­zen­ship sta­tus of par­lia­men­tar­i­ans?

Cameron says it’s sim­ply a point of prin­ci­ple, not per­sonal mal­ice or the “witch hunt” that Malcolm Turn­bull de­scribed last week as a conga line of MPs stepped for­ward to ad­mit their el­i­gi­bil­ity sta­tus was un­clear.

By way of ex­pla­na­tion, he of­fers a quote from 17th-cen­tury his­to­rian Thomas Fuller. “Be ye ever so high, the law is al­ways above thee.”

If the Con­sti­tu­tion re­quires a par­lia­men­tar­ian to have taken all rea­son­able steps to re­nounce for­eign cit­i­zen­ship, “they should have done so”, he says bluntly. Any MP caught out on cit­i­zen­ship was “know­ingly reck­less — they didn’t check”.

Cameron has carved out an idio­syn­cratic ca­reer in New Zealand, Fiji and Aus­tralia, where he ar­rived in the late 1980s to as­sist the Royal Com­mis­sion into Abo­rig­i­nal Deaths in Cus­tody.

He’s fought for com­pen­sa­tion for an Abo­rig­i­nal woman who suf­fered burns while in prison and acted for asy­lum-seek­ers ma­rooned in Aus­tralia’s de­ten­tion cen­tres.

He says he never set out to top­ple the ca­reers, domino-like, of fed­eral MPs, let alone desta­bilise a govern­ment.

It was just that his in­ti­mate knowl­edge of con­sti­tu­tional law — and per­haps his own con­scious de­ci­sion to re­tain his dual cit­i­zen­ship — preyed on his mind when he ob­served dozens of MPs with el­i­gi­bil­ity he con­sid­ered sus­pect. It was why, ear­lier this year, with a bit of time on his hands, he asked the New Zealand Depart­ment of In­ter­nal Af­fairs to search its reg­is­ter in re­la­tion to Lud­lam and sen­a­tor Der­ryn Hinch. “I ex­pected the ‘Hu­man Head­line’ may not have done it and Mr Lud­lam would have done it,” Cameron says, “but it was the other way around.”

Cameron had last year voted for Lud­lam — he quips it was “be­cause he’s a fel­low Kiwi” — but the Greens sen­a­tor was not spared once the bar­ris­ter be­came aware of his dual cit­i­zen­ship. He con­tacted a Greens ac­quain­tance and told him he had dis­cov­ered Lud­lam was still for­mally reg­is­tered as a cit­i­zen in New Zealand. If so, wasn’t his dual cit­i­zen­ship in breach of sec­tion 44 of the Con­sti­tu­tion? Lud­lam re­signed 48 hours later.

‘I’m not in­ter­ested in state­ments. I’m only in­ter­ested in ev­i­dence’ JOHN CAMERON ON MPs WHO DENY DUAL CIT­I­ZEN­SHIP

Cameron has rarely spo­ken on the record to the me­dia. He did so with The Aus­tralian on the day Lud­lam stepped down, but now is pre­pared to dis­close his ac­tions span­ning sev­eral years.

The story that pre­cedes that fate­ful top­pling of the first domino is a fas­ci­nat­ing one. Cameron has claimed po­lit­i­cal victims be­fore and he may claim sev­eral more. His bid for clar­ity be­gan on Au­gust 12, 2010, with a sim­ple email re­quest to the Bri­tish Home Of­fice.

“Folks, do your records show that ei­ther of the fol­low­ing Aus­tralian cit­i­zens has re­nounced his/her Bri­tish na­tion­al­ity? Ju­lia Eileen Gil­lard, born Wales, 29 Septem­ber 1961. An­thony John Ab­bott, born Lon­don, 4 Novem­ber 1957. Thanks, John Cameron.”

The Bri­tish of­fi­cial or­dered to give a re­sponse may not have re­alised the two names were those of Aus­tralia’s newly in­stalled first fe­male prime min­is­ter and the Lib­eral op­po­si­tion leader who had failed to win govern­ment.

Eleven days later, a re­ply came back from the UK Border Agency, Cor­re­spon­dence and En­quiry Team. “Dear John, Thank you for your in­quiry. There is no record on our sys­tem, which goes back to Oc­to­ber 1986, of a record of re­nun­ci­a­tion in the de­tails you have pro­vided.”

Cameron says he was in­trigued. He sent the email to the leader of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, to Gil­lard and Ab­bott di­rectly, and to suc­ces­sive fed­eral at­tor­neys-gen­eral. When, af­ter sev­eral years, he failed to re­ceive a re­ply, he turned to the High Court, seek­ing access to the only le­git­i­mate doc­u­ments he says would con­firm that Ab­bott and Gil­lard — or any MP in their sit­u­a­tion — had in­deed re­nounced their Bri­tish cit­i­zen­ship.

Ac­cord­ing to the Bri­tish Home Of­fice, only “the copy of the (RN1) ap­pli­ca­tion form, which is of­fi­cially signed and stamped to show that the dec­la­ra­tion has been reg­is­tered, will be for­mal ev­i­dence of the ap­pli­cant’s re­nun­ci­a­tion”.

Last week Gil­lard re­peated her state­ment that she had re­nounced Bri­tish cit­i­zen­ship in or­der to stand for the Se­nate in 1996. She was un­suc­cess­ful in that elec­tion but was then elected to the seat of Lalor in 1998.

“What my per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence shows is that more than two decades ago the Aus­tralian La­bor Party was giv­ing ac­cu­rate ad­vice to can­di­dates on is­sues re­gard­ing el­i­gi­bil­ity to stand for fed­eral par­lia­ment,” she tweeted.

In July this year, Ab­bott re­leased a let­ter from the Bri­tish high com­mis­sion stat­ing “that our records show that you re­nounced Bri­tish cit­i­zen­ship on 12 Oc­to­ber 1993”. He be­came an Aus­tralian cit­i­zen by nat­u­ral­i­sa­tion on June 26, 1981.

But Cameron says while that may be true, nei­ther has pub­licly pro­duced the only cred­i­ble ev­i­dence — the stamped and dated ap­pli­cant’s copy of the RN1 — that each would have re­ceived if their ap­pli­ca­tion for re­nun­ci­a­tion had been granted.

With­out that form, he says, it is not pos­si­ble to dis­re­gard the UK Border Au­thor­ity email in­form­ing him it held no record of ei­ther per­son hav­ing re­nounced their Bri­tish cit­i­zen­ship ac­quired by birth.

In 2013, with Ab­bott as op­po­si­tion leader, Gil­lard an­nounced elec­tions would be held in Septem­ber. Hav­ing ex­hausted all other av­enues — and given the Home Of­fice email was tech­ni­cally in­ad­miss­able in court — Cameron ap­plied to the High Court for an or­der di­rect­ing Gil­lard and Ab­bott to pro­duce their RN1 forms.

In writ­ten sub­mis­sions, Cameron claimed: “The elec­tors could be faced with a choice for prime min­is­ter, be­tween two can­di­dates nei­ther of whom may be ca­pa­ble un­der sec­tion 44 of the Con­sti­tu­tion … of be­ing cho­sen or sit­ting as a member of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives.”

Judge Ken­neth Hayne dis­missed his re­quest as “friv­o­lous, vex­a­tious, and an abuse of process”. That find­ing was con­firmed by Su­san Kiefel, now Chief Jus­tice, and judge Patrick Keane.

Cameron has not been de­terred. He says he is wait­ing for a re­sponse to fur­ther re­quests he has put to the Home Of­fice, and ap­peals against de­nial of in­for­ma­tion lodged with the UK In­for­ma­tion Com­mis­sioner.

He is no timid ad­ver­sary; he has claimed scalps be­fore in the pur­suit of what he would claim is good gov­er­nance and a voter’s right to know. While work­ing as a bar­ris­ter in Fiji in 1995, he was asked by Fiji’s op­po­si­tion party to look into the cit­i­zen­ship sta­tus of a newly in­stalled min­is­ter for Fi­jian af­fairs, Adi Sa­ma­nuna Cakobau.

Cameron as­cer­tained from the Bri­tish high com­mis­sion that she was a dual UK cit­i­zen at the time of her nom­i­na­tion.

She was forced to re­sign her port­fo­lio and her seat.

She was closely fol­lowed by an­other; her suc­ces­sor to the min­is­te­rial job she had va­cated was also revealed to be a Bri­tish cit­i­zen. He too was forced to stand aside.

Cameron would say he’s car­ried out his duty to en­sure Aus­tralia is “a coun­try of laws”, not one in which the law is “viewed through the prism of am­bi­tion”.

He’s still wait­ing for for­mal ev­i­dence re­lat­ing to sev­eral MPs who in­her­ited Bri­tish cit­i­zen­ship.

“I’m not in­ter­ested in state­ments,” he says when asked if Gil­lard and Ab­bott’s de­clared re­nun­ci­a­tions are enough. “I’m only in­ter­ested in ev­i­dence.”

PHILIP GOSTELOW

Bar­ris­ter John Cameron in the gar­dens of the Con­sti­tu­tional Cen­tre of West­ern Aus­tralia, Perth

Ab­bott

Cakobau

Lud­lam

Gil­lard

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