High stakes for Turnbull government as High Court hears MPs’ citizenship cases


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Barnaby Joyce is on tenterhooks. Despite Malcolm Turnbull’s confidence that the High Court will find for him, Joyce’s parliamentary eligibility is a key to how the government finishes the year.

From Tuesday to Thursday, the court will consider what is surely one of the most extraordinary set of cases to come before it – the constitutional position of seven current and former MPs who were dual citizens.

All but Joyce are or were senators, which means that the only potential byelection that could be caused is for Joyce’s seat of New England. Three are Nationals: Joyce, Fiona Nash and Matt Canavan. Canavan quit the ministry (but not the parliament) when his issue arose; Joyce and Nash remain on the frontbench.

The two Greens, Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters, resigned from parliament when they discovered their dual nationality. It was Ludlam’s departure that started the dominoes falling, as others checked their positions. Both Greens argue they were ineligible to sit – although the Commonwealth is actually saying Waters was eligible.

The remaining two are One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts, and Nick Xenophon.

Roberts, Ludlam and Waters were born overseas. The rest had foreign citizenship by descent. Joyce and Ludlam were New Zealanders; Nash, Xenophon and Roberts had British citizenship; Waters found herself a Canadian because she was born there during her parents’ brief stay; Canavan was Italian.

There have been some bizarre twists. Canavan said initially his mother had signed him up to Italian citizenship without his knowledge; later it was found she hadn’t had to – he already had it.

This latter fact is important for the Commonwealth’s legal argument. It is contending the constitutional provision about citizenship was only intended to exclude those who acted positively to obtain foreign citizenship or knowingly kept it. If Canavan’s Italian citizenship was gained by positive action, he wouldn’t be protected by that argument, as he would be if he were Italian by descent.

Xenophon had a very weak form of British citizenship, via his father, who had emigrated from Cyprus, which was a British territory.

The court has already declared that Roberts, who sent questions about his status to defunct email addresses, was a British citizen when elected, although it has not yet ruled on his eligibility.

Section 44 (i) of the Constitution reads clearly enough, on the face of it.

A person cannot be chosen for or sit in federal parliament if he or she:

… is under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power, or is a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or citizen of a foreign power.

To clear themselves of this potential problem, an aspiring parliamentarian has to take proper steps to renounce a foreign citizenship.

It’s notable the major parties, which have good vetting, aren’t caught up in this case, although there have been allegations against some of their MPs.

The government is arguing that if the MP was Australian at birth (whether born here, or abroad to Australian parents) and wasn’t aware of their dual citizenship, they should not be found ineligible – in other words, that ignorance is a defence.

But if the MP was born overseas and later naturalised, the government argues, they were on notice about potentially being a foreign citizen, regardless of what they thought was the case. In this instance, according to the government’s argument, ignorance is not a defence.

If the court clears most of the MPs, it would be an effective rewrite, through interpretation, of the literal wording of this section.

The potential implications of the court’s decisions are wide and varied.

With Ludlam and Waters already out of parliament, the issue is just how they are replaced. If the court agrees with their own assessments that they were ineligible, their replacements will be the next candidates on the Greens 2016 tickets in Western Australia and Queensland, respectively Jordon Steele-John and Andrew Bartlett (a one-time Australian Democrats senator and leader).

If the court upheld the eligibility of one or both, the replacement or replacements would be chosen by the party. Ludlam has indicated he would not seek nomination; Waters, anxious to return to parliament, would be expected to do so.

It’s always possible, incidentally, for someone elected via a countback to then resign, leaving the way for the party to choose the replacement.

If Roberts is knocked out, the next on the One Nation ticket is Fraser Anning, who recently avoided another constitutional impediment: bankruptcy.

Disqualification of Xenophon would see Tim Storer of the Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) installed. But if Xenophon’s eligibility is upheld, he will leave the Senate anyway, to contest the South Australian election. In that circumstance, his party would choose who followed him.

The disqualification of Nash and Canavan would lead to candidates down their respective 2016 New South Wales and Queensland tickets replacing them. That would create some internal complications regarding the numbers between the Coalition parties.

Professor Anne Twomey, from the University of Sydney Law School, noted that if Nash were disqualified and a recount held, she would most likely by replaced by the Liberal who was next on the joint ticket. She said:

Even if that Liberal then resigned in an effort to pass the seat back to the Nationals, the constitution requires that the person who fills the seat is a member of the same party as the senator who was ‘chosen by the people’.

This would not have been Nash, as she was disqualified, and therefore never validly chosen. It would be the Liberal who won the seat on the recount. This would mean that she would have to be replaced by a Liberal, upsetting the balance in the Coalition.

The loss of one or both National senators would also mean a reshuffle of portfolios. This would fit with Turnbull’s desire for an end-of-year reshuffle, but test the Nationals’ talent pool. (Canavan is out of the ministry but Joyce is acting in his roles.)

But it is the finding on Joyce that has the big implications. If he were forced to a byelection, it would rock the government – even though he would almost certainly retain his seat.

The first issue would be whether he stood down from the ministry.

Twomey noted that while the constitution allows a person to be a minister for three months without holding a seat, the problem would be that Joyce had not validly held a seat since July last year – “which suggests that his three-month grace period is well and truly over. On that basis he would have to stop acting as a minister immediately.”

With Joyce out of parliament, the government would lose its majority on the floor of the House of Representatives. The result of particular votes would depend on the issue, the crossbenchers and – if it came to that – the Speaker’s casting vote.

Fighting a byelection would be distracting and disruptive for a government struggling in the polls.

The former independent member for New England, Tony Windsor, who is maintaining in the High Court that Joyce should be disqualified, has not ruled out running in a byelection. One Nation could be in the field, as could the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party, whose support will be tested in the NSW byelections this weekend.

The Newspoll quarterly breakdown, published this week, has found the government under pressure in regional areas. But a ReachTEL poll done last month for the Australia Institute found the Nationals polling 44.6% in New England, Windsor 26.5% and One Nation 9.8%, Labor 8.4%, and the Greens 2.4%.

The Queensland election, expected to be announced very soon, would be another dynamic in a byelection situation.

If, on the other hand, Joyce’s eligibility is upheld, Turnbull’s end-of-year reshuffle becomes much easier, especially with a strong win for the “yes” case now expected in the marriage ballot.

That still leaves the challenge of energy policy. Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg on Monday signalled the government was turning its back on a clean energy target, a reflection of the strength of the conservative voices within Coalition ranks – a combination of right-wing Liberals and the Nationals.

On the present timetable, the government is likely to take the broad outlines of its energy policy to the Coalition partyroom when parliament resumes next week.

The ConversationBut the situation is fluid, with the outcome in the High Court the known unknown. While the timing isn’t precise, the court is expected to be quick with its decision. It is obviously not driven by politics, but it is alert to the need to provide political certainly as soon as possible.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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No legal doubt over decisions Joyce and Nash take: Brandis



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George Brandis said the government would ask the court to deal with the citizenship issue urgently.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Attorney-General George Brandis has insisted there will be no legal doubt over decisions taken by Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and Regional Development Minister Fiona Nash while the High Court determines their eligibility to sit in parliament.

This comes as crossbencher Nick Xenophon has announced he will refer himself to the High Court after being advised he has British overseas citizenship through his father Theodoros Xenophou, who came from Cyprus, a British colony at the time. Xenophon will continue to vote in the Senate.

Meanwhile, cabinet minister Arthur Sinodinos has suggested that perhaps the Constitution’s citizenship section will eventually need to be addressed.

“Down the track after we have sorted this all out and the High Court have had a chance to look at this, maybe we need to go back to some of the reports of the parliament itself about the status of parts of Section 44 in the light of what happened in our society,” he told the ABC.

Joyce and Nash are under pressure from the crossbenchers and the opposition to stand down from the ministry while their status is determined. A third National whose parliamentary eligibility is before the court, Matt Canavan, resigned from the ministry.

All three were dual citizens when elected, and so could be ruled out under Section 44 of the Constitution, which prohibits dual nationals being eligible for parliament. The government, however, has said repeatedly it is confident the court judgment will be in their favour.

Brandis pointed to Section 64 of the Constitution, which allows a person to be a minister for three months without being in the parliament.

“I do not think there is a problem and I don’t think there’s any doubt,” he said.

Professor of constitutional law at Sydney University, Anne Twomey, in an article for The Conversation, wrote that the ministers’ decisions could come into legal doubt from when “they admit to being a dual national and refer to the High Court the question of their qualification to sit in the parliament, especially if the invalidity to hold parliamentary office exceeds three months.

“For this reason, it would be prudent for those ministers who are currently under a cloud concerning their lawful occupation of office to cease to make decisions which are contentious or might give rise to legal challenges with significant consequences,” Twomey wrote.

Brandis said the government would ask the court to deal with the citizenship issue urgently. “I think realistically that may be in the first fortnight of October,” he told Sky. The court now has the citizenship circumstances of seven current and former MPs to consider. The government has confirmed they are all paying their own legal costs.

The Nick Xenophon Team made it clear at the weekend that its House of Representatives member, Rebekha Sharkie, would not vote against the government on matters of confidence or supply. This followed Sharkie being reported in Fairfax Media saying she had decided she would no longer support the government on these. She said she was “quite frustrated with the prime minister” for retaining the ministers in cabinet.

In the weekend statement, Sharkie continued to call for Joyce to stand aside as minister pending the High Court decision. But the statement said: “NXT has made it clear that until the High Court decision, they expect to support the government on matters of confidence and supply”.

Xenophon said on Saturday: “Overnight I have received advice from the United Kingdom Home Office that they consider I am a British Overseas Citizen (a historical category of citizenship formerly known as a Citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies).

“The UK Home Office has advised this on the basis that my father, Theo, was born in Cyprus when it was under British occupation, and migrated to Australia in 1951 – over 66 years ago.

“The great irony here is that my father left Cyprus in order to escape British Colonial rule.

“At that time he appears to have travelled to Australia on British Colonial travel documents.

“I was born in Adelaide, South Australia … in 1959.

“It was obviously unknown to me or my family that I was deemed to be a Colonial UK Citizen by virtue of the 1948 British Nationality Act.

“Cyprus became independent of its colonial power on August 16, 1960. At the moment of independence, every Cypriot lost their colonial UK citizenship status.

“I would have lost that colonial status as well if my father was living in Cyprus at the time or in any other country in the world except, according to the then British Nationality Act, these nine countries: Canada, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), India, New Zealand, Pakistan, Union of South Africa, Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Newfoundland (then a separate dominion, now part of Canada) and Australia …

“The oral advice from the UK Home Office last night is that this whole scenario is a quote ‘rare peculiarity’.

“Citizens of the UK and Colonies – CUKCs – without the right of abode in the UK, were reclassified as British Overseas Citizens on the 1st of January, 1983, after British nationality legislation was modernised.

“The UK Home Office now believes I am a British Overseas Citizen.

“I have made inquiries of the Home Office and researched what it means to be a British Overseas Citizen.

The Conversation“The literature on this and oral advice from the UK Home Office is that this form of citizenship is quote ‘useless’, and indeed in many cases it confers fewer rights than an Australian citizen travelling on an Australian passport to the United Kingdom would have,” Xenophon said.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/8ppnw-6fcd65?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

New shock rocks government: Nationals’ deputy Fiona Nash a dual British citizen



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Fiona Nash made a statement to the Senate just before it rose on Thursday night for a fornight’s break.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government has been hit with another bombshell in the citizenship crisis, with the deputy leader of the Nationals, Fiona Nash, found to have dual British nationality.

Nash made a statement to the Senate just before it rose on Thursday night for a fornight’s break. Her case will be referred to the High Court when parliament resumes on September 4.

This means that both the Nationals’ leader, Barnaby Joyce, and his deputy will be before the High Court to determine whether they are ineligible to sit under Section 44 (i) of the Constitution, as will the Nationals’ former cabinet minister Matt Canavan. The section bans people with dual citizenship being elected.

Coming as soon as parliament met on Monday and just as it adjourned on Thursday, the Joyce and Nash statements respectively bookended a disastrous week for the Turnbull government.

Like Joyce and unlike Canavan, Nash, who is minister for regional development, will stay in cabinet, and will also remain deputy leader, while the court considers her position.

Nash told the Senate that after Joyce’s statement on his dual New Zealand citizenship, she sought advice from the UK Home Office. By Monday evening she was told a caseworker there believed she was a British citizen by descent through her Scottish-born father.

Her mother was born in Australia and was an Australian citizen; her father was born in Scotland in 1927. Her father died nine years ago, and her mother five years ago.

“I was born in Sydney in 1965. My parents divorced when I was eight and my mother raised me. I had very little contact with my father throughout his life,” Nash said.

“Growing up, my parents always told me that I was not a dual citizen. My understanding since early childhood was that in order to be a dual British citizen, I would need to apply for it.”

She said an internet search revealed a host of websites saying that having a Scottish-born father allowed a person to apply for citizenship, while mentioning nothing about automatic citizenship by descent.

She said the government had sought legal advice from the UK about her situation. This had been received on Thursday, and had been considered by a committee of cabinet late Thursday. Advice had been received from the solicitor-general shortly before she spoke.

“I have just met with the prime minister and am taking this opportunity to make the Senate aware at the earliest possible opportunity of the position,” Nash said.

She said that on the basis of the solicitor-general’s advice, Malcolm Turnbull “has indicated to me that he sees no reason for me to stand aside from my portfolio responsibilities.”

Labor greeted Nash’s stated timeframe with some scepticism.

Senator Katy Gallagher, manager of opposition business in the Senate, said as Nash had admitted, she’d “known since Monday that she was a dual citizen, yet waited until one minute before the Senate rose for a two-week break to inform the parliament. This is simply not good enough.”

The ConversationShe said Turnbull needed to explain why he was holding Joyce and now Nash to a lesser standard than Canavan, and not requiring them to stand down.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/hu9ay-6f0803?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.