Lawyer behind scandal expects further victims
The man who set in motion the Australian citizenship scandal that has now claimed five political careers says he expects more heads will roll.
New Zealand-born West Australian lawyer John Cameron outed Greens senator Scott Ludlam as a New Zealand citizen in July, leading to an eventual constitutional crisis for the Australian government.
Ludlam’s resignation resulted in the status of other politicians being questioned, which culminated in Friday’s High Court decision disqualifying five federal MPs.
In the months that followed Ludlam’s resignation, Cameron kept silent, but following the court’s decision he has spoken to AAP about his motivation to dig into the background of Australia’s elected representatives.
Cameron, who voted for Ludlam, applied to New Zealand’s Internal Affairs Department to search its register for the Greens MP, and found he was in fact a Kiwi citizen.
From there, he contacted the Australian Senate to alert it to the fact that Ludlam was a dual citizen, before contacting Ludlam’s office.
Cameron said he was ‘‘invariably surprised’’ at how quickly the citizenship scandal had snowballed. He also said he expected more politicians to fall foul of section 44 of the Australian constitution in coming months.
‘‘There will be others,’’ Cameron told AAP just hours after the Australian High Court disqualified Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, who was also found to be a New Zealand citizen, and four other MPs.
‘‘This opens up a huge can of worms,’’ he said from Perth.
Section 44 bans anyone holding dual citizenship from sitting in parliament, to ensure MPs do not hold split allegiances.
Cameron said that of the additional MPs he expected would lose their jobs, many would be British citizens.
While not religious, Cameron said a prayer was his principal motivation to pursue to the citizenship story. ‘‘God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference.’’ He said the prayer motivated him to make sure he would change what he could.
‘‘There are those in parliament who think that they are above the law. A correction is required.’’
The Perth-based lawyer said he began digging in 2011, starting with then-prime minister Julia Gillard and opposition leader Tony Abbott.
‘‘When I started, I was after Gillard and Abbott, but I wasn’t having much joy getting the evidence, or I wasn’t getting much joy in the High Court accepting the evidence that I had from the British border authority.’’
Instead, Cameron turned to his home country for information about Ludlam. ‘‘It was easier to go after Scott Ludlam as one of the low-lying fruit because it was accessible through New Zealand,’’ he said.
Five months later, Joyce, Ludlam, Nationals MP Fiona Nash, One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts and Greens MP Larissa Waters have all been booted from office.
Cameron said the citizenship scandal highlighted a need for a national anti-corruption commission, similar to what has been established in New South Wales.
‘‘There’s a crying out need for an independent commission on corruption, as this case has demonstrated,’’ he said. ‘‘And if nothing else comes out, then it will have been worthwhile.’’
Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is expected to put concerns over the legitimacy of his government behind him and go ahead with a trip to Israel despite the High Court disqualifying two of his ministers, triggering a by-election.
The High Court ruled that Joyce and Nash were ineligible to stand for the 2016 election because they were dual citizens of New Zealand and Britain respectively.
The court also disqualified Ludlam, Waters and Roberts, but not independent Nick Xenophon.
Nationals senator Matt Canavan has returned to cabinet as resources minister after the court ruled he was not disqualified for election. He resigned from cabinet in July after discovering he potentially possessed Italian citizenship.
Joyce now faces a December 2 by-election in his NSW seat of New England, which he is widely expected to win, with his arch-rival Tony Windsor pulling out.
The government will need to tread carefully, as its numbers will be temporarily reduced to 75 in the 150-seat parliament.
Independent Cathy McGowan has indicated that she will support the government against any vote of no confidence and for supply, but has given no guarantees on bills.
The Labor opposition says it is not planning any mischief in parliament, but cited weekend penalty rates and a royal commission into the banking sector – two issues it lost by one vote previously – as issues it would pursue when the House of Representatives returns on November 27.
Labor says Turnbull was ‘‘reckless’’ in allowing Joyce and Nash to retain their cabinet posts while the court decided their fate. The party has advice that decisions made by the two ministers and Canavan since October 2016 could be challenged in court.