The citizenship debacle for the government seems to just get worse by the day. While some 5 Senators have been given the boot, the government has been stonewalling with regard to holding some sort of audit of the citizenship of all members of parliament. While they can cope with problems in the Senate, as they were in a minority there anyway, so it is just more of the same. In a Senate worst case scenario, they will not be able to get any legislation through, but that is something they are used to. However, this is a minor consideration compared to the possibility of a few of their members getting the boot from the House of Representatives. While they still have a wafer-thin majority in the Reps after the demise of Barnaby Joyce (on the assumption that the speaker can be prevailed upon to use his casting vote), to lose any other members would most likely see the government face a vote of no confidence. Should they lose this, they will most likely be out of government. That is what the government are mortified to even contemplate. This distrust has been exacerbated by the revelation that Senate President, Stephen Parry, told several government members of Parliament (including minister Mitch Fifield) months ago, that he had concerns about his possible dual citizenship. According to the Attorney General, George Brandis, and the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, neither were told prior to this week1. With colleagues like that, you don’t need enemies.
I expect that the government at least has a good idea how many of their lower house members are at risk and, given their stonewalling, it is likely to be a significant number. On the assumption that the same ratio operates as in the Senate, one would expect there are at least 5 more members (in addition to Joyce) who are likely to be ineligible. That would be game, set and match for the LNP in government.
That the Labor Party has some sort of process more rigorous than that of the LNP is indicated by the case of Sam Dastyari. He states that he employed a team of lawyers and renounced his Iranian citizenship at a cost of $25,000 to himself2. This indicates that the Labor Party has at least an awareness of the requirements Section 44 of the Constitution. This is also indicated by the fact that ACT Senator Katy Gallagher renounced her British citizenship in April 2016, before nominating for election to the Senate. When the recent fiasco began, the Labor Party obtained legal advice that Gallagher, who was born in Ecuador, had no right to Ecuadorian citizenship3. So, while they seem to have some sort of process, the Labor Party doesn’t seem to think it is completely foolproof.
It has been speculated by some that Labor is against any proposed audit, simply to make this fiasco even longer and more excruciating than it could be for the LNP. Either that or they are a bit nervous that some of their members may fall foul of Section 44, as they apparently suspected Katy Gallagher could have done.
The last person to have the finger pointed at him is Minister Josh Frydenberg, whose mother escaped from Hungary after the Second World War. She supposedly arrived as a stateless person. What this means for Frydenberg is anybody’s guess. What I find disgraceful is the manufactured outrage by Frydenberg, Brandis and Turnbull in this regard. Frydenberg has maintained that the possibility that he could be a Hungarian citizen is “absolutely absurd”, as he has made enquiries of his mum. However, the Hungarian Government, after the war, conferred citizenship on those who had been considered non-citizens (i.e. mostly Jewish people). Fortunately, he also obtained information confirming that he was not a citizen from the Hungarian Embassy4. However, this does depend on what question he asked. This is because, Section 44 of the Constitution refers to the fact that you are entitled to be a citizen, not that you are a citizen5. That is a different thing.
Both Brandis and Turnbull have labelled the questions regarding Frydenberg’s citizenship status as a witch-hunt6. This is a lie. It is not a witch-hunt; it is a fact hunt. It is the LNP who are more adept at witch-hunts, as the ham-fisted Pink Batts Royal Commission and the shambolic Unions Royal Commission so clearly demonstrated. What is required is for the nation to find out if any more members of parliament have transgressed the Constitution. This is not a witch-hunt, it is determining the legality of the election of members of parliament, and the rule of law is one of the pillars upon which our democracy rests. To ignore that is to endanger our democracy. If politicians were not so self-interested, and so lustful of power, they would acquiesce and opt for some sort of audit. In fact, the Labor Party have now indicated that they are willing to be part of some sort of audit. That presumably means that they have checked all their records and that all or almost all of their members are in the clear. So, that leaves the government whining about a witch-hunt, in an insipid attempt to distract the media and the populace, when they know they are very deeply in the poo.