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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High Court sets dual citizenship hearings for October



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Malcolm Roberts is one of several MPs currently before the High Court.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The High Court has rejected the government’s request to have MPs’ dual citizenship cases heard in mid-September, instead setting hearing dates of October 10, 11 and 12.

This prolongs the uncertainty for the government, which has the eligibility of two Nationals ministers – Barnaby Joyce and Fiona Nash – and former minister Matt Canavan under consideration.

Labor has made it clear it will continue to challenge the presence on the frontbench of Joyce and Nash. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten on Thursday repeated his call for the two to stand down from the ministry.

“It is an untenable, unsustainable situation for government ministers with a cloud over their eligibility to sit in their portfolios, making decisions.” Shorten said if it were “subsequently found out they weren’t eligible to sit in the parliament, the decisions they made can be appealed”.

The court currently has five current and former MPs before it – apart from Joyce and Canavan, they are two former Greens senators, Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters, and One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts. Nash and crossbench senator Nick Xenophon will be referred to it when parliament resumes early next month.

Canavan’s lawyer revealed Canavan was an Italian citizen by descent since he was two years old, due to a change in Italian law at that time that enabled citizenship to be passed down through a person’s mother, not just their father.

This means that Canavan already had citizenship when his mother – of Italian descent but born in Australia – obtained it for him when he was an adult. He has said he only became aware she had signed him up after the citizenship issue blew up.

Solicitor-General Stephen Donaghue told the court the eligibility of Canavan, Joyce and Waters should be upheld, because they had not known they were dual citizens.

In contrast, Ludlam and Roberts had in the past filled out forms acknowledging they were citizens of other countries. Ludlam should be disqualified, Donaghue said, while Roberts’ situation turns on the timing of his renunciation form.

Roberts’ barrister said he needed more time before the case was heard.

The court has given standing in the case to Tony Windsor, who ran unsuccessfully against Joyce in New England at the last election.

Windsor held the seat as an independent until retiring at the 2013 election. He has not ruled out contesting if Joyce were declared ineligible and there was a byelection.

Windsor’s lawyer argued in court that Section 44 (i) of the Constitution was clear, and it was the candidate’s responsibility to check whether they were a dual citizen.

The ConversationPrime Minister Malcolm Turnbull repeated on Thursday that: “We are very, very confident that our members who have been caught up in this will be held by the court to be eligible to sit in the parliament”.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Government urges the High Court to hear citizenship cases in mid-September


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The government tells High Court it would be willing to pay costs of those before the court
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government has asked the High Court to hear the dual citizenship cases of several current and former MPs on September 13-14, saying there is a “compelling public interest” for the matters to be determined as quickly as possible.

In a submission to the court on behalf of Attorney-General George Brandis, Solicitor-General Stephen Donaghue also flags that Brandis would seek to appear in the case. In practice, the attorney-general would be represented by the solicitor-general.

The matters raise important issues about the proper construction of Section 44 (i) of the Constitution, and attorneys-general have appeared in relevant previous cases, the submission says.

The High Court has a directions hearing on Thursday. Brandis said at the weekend that while 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”.

So far, two Nationals, Barnaby Joyce and Matt Canavan, two former Greens senators, Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters, and One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts have been referred to the court. When parliament resumes the Nationals’ Fiona Nash and crossbencher Nick Xenophon will also be referred.

The submission says the Commonwealth has already obtained legal opinions from leading lawyers, in Italy on Canavan, and in New Zealand about Joyce.

“The experts conclude that, for the purposes of the domestic law of each country, senator Canavan and the Hon Barnaby Joyce MP are, or were, citizens of Italy and New Zealand respectively.

“The attorney-general understands that this conclusion will not be disputed in either reference.”

The government proposes also to seek opinions about the citizenship of the others referred to the court.

These would be sought from:

  • Laurie Fransman of the UK bar. He has already given an opinion on Nash, whose father was a Scot, and “it is anticipated that he could provide a further opinion in relation to senator Roberts very quickly”. There is dispute about whether Roberts has renounced his UK citizenship.

  • David Goddard of the New Zealand bar, in relation to Ludlam, who was born in New Zealand. Goddard provided the opinion on Joyce.

  • A suitable expert in Canadian law who could advise on Waters, who was born in Canada.

The government says to help expedite the hearing, it would be willing to accept a court order to pay other parties’ costs.

The government has said previously the individual MPs would be responsible for their own legal representation.

On the government’s suggested timetable, the parties would provide detailed information about their circumstances by September 1.

This would include dates and places of birth of themselves, their parents, and – if relevant – their grandparents. Also, they should provide relevant immigration details for themselves and their family, and details of acquisition of Australian citizenship and renunciation of any foreign citizenship.

They should give the date and circumstances of their becoming aware they were or may be a citizen of another country.

And, if applicable, they should provide “details of any formal interactions with the relevant foreign power” such as for passport purposes, voting in elections, offers of or receipt of consular or similar assistance, or any military service requested or undertaken.

The ConversationThe government says that to the extent possible the cases should be heard together. “In the event that factual issues arise that prevent one or more of the references from being ready to be heard with the others, that circumstance should not delay the expedited resolution of the other references.”

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.

If High Court decides against ministers with dual citizenship, could their decisions in office be challenged?



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It’d be better for ministers like Barnaby Joyce to have any potentially contentious decisions made by an acting minister until their citizenship issues are resolved.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Anne Twomey, University of Sydney

What would happen if the High Court found that ministers Barnaby Joyce, Fiona Nash and Matthew Canavan had not been validly elected at the last federal election in July 2016?

In the case of the senators (Nash and Canavan), the High Court, sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns, would most likely order a special recount of the votes, as it did in relation to senators Bob Day and Rod Culleton, with the seat then most likely going to the next person on the Coalition ticket.

This may disrupt the balance between the National Party and the Liberal Party in the Senate, as those most likely to replace the two National Party senators would be from the Liberal Party.

Joyce’s seat, being in the lower house, would most likely go to a byelection, as previously occurred in the cases of Jackie Kelly and Phil Cleary. Like Kelly and Cleary, Joyce could stand for his seat at the byelection, as he has now renounced his New Zealand citizenship.

A bigger question arises, however, as to the validity of decisions that they made as ministers since the last election. If they were not validly elected in July 2016, then Section 64 of the Constitution becomes relevant. It says:

… no minister of state shall hold office for a longer period than three months unless he is or becomes a senator or a member of the House of Representatives.

That three months ran out a long time ago. So, for a considerable time they would have been exercising powers conferred upon ministers by statute, without actually being ministers. Were those decisions valid? Could they be challenged?

This brings into play the “de-facto officer” doctrine. This is a common law doctrine that protects people who rely on acts done in the apparent execution of their office by an officer who appears to be “clothed with official authority”, even though they may not validly hold that office.

It is not aimed at protecting those who invalidly exercise power, but rather those who rely in good faith on the apparent authority of those who publicly exercise power. The doctrine is also relied on to give certainty concerning the validity of acts of persons whose appointment or election may later be challenged.

The public policy behind the doctrine is to avoid the chaos that would ensue if decisions of public officials were automatically rendered invalid because of a later discovered defect in their election or appointment. For example, the decisions of a Western Australian magistrate were upheld, even though they were taken after she had reached the compulsory age for retirement.

The application of the doctrine, however, is uncertain. It does not necessarily apply to all decisions of an invalidly appointed officer, and therefore is likely to lead to litigation if decisions are contentious.

Its application has also been doubted in relation to matters that concern a breach of the Constitution. For example, High Court Justice Michael Kirby observed in a 2006 case about the constitutional validity of acting judges that:

It is difficult to reconcile the [de facto officer] doctrine with the fundamental role of the federal Constitution as the ultimate source of other laws. Constitutional rulings can occasionally be unsettling, at least for a period. However, this is inherent in the arrangements of a nation that lives by the rule of law and accords a special status to the federal Constitution as its fundamental law.

Moreover, the doctrine ceases to protect the actions of the purported official at the point when they lose the cloak of authority, such as when the validity of their appointment is contested, or their lack of qualification to hold office is “notorious”.

It is quite possible that point arises when, in the case of a Commonwealth minister, 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.

The ConversationInstead, such actions, if they need to be taken before the question of the status of these ministers is resolved by the High Court, could be taken by acting ministers to ensure their validity and avoid the financial and social costs of further litigation and uncertainty.

Anne Twomey, Professor of Constitutional Law, University of Sydney

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

High Court challenge to offshore immigration detention power fails



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The decision reveals the striking breadth of the government’s power to deal with asylum seekers and refugees in ways that directly contravene international law.
AAP/Eoin Blackwell

Amy Maguire, University of Newcastle

The High Court has today rejected a claim that the Australian government can only exercise its powers outside Australia for purposes that would be legal under the law of the relevant foreign country.

This means the Australian government had and has the power to establish and maintain its offshore immigration detention facility in Papua New Guinea, despite detention of asylum seekers there violating PNG law.

Background to the decision

The case commenced in May 2016. The initial application was a class action seeking relief on international, constitutional, administrative and civil law grounds. The court later permitted the plaintiff to file an amended application on more limited grounds.

The sole current plaintiff is an Iranian man, taken into Australian jurisdiction while on board an asylum-seeker vessel in July 2013. He was transported to Christmas Island, detained, and categorised as an “unlawful non-citizen”. In August 2013 the plaintiff was transferred to the offshore immigration detention facility on Manus Island.

The plaintiff claims to be a refugee but has not participated in the assessment process in PNG. He does not want to be settled there as a refugee due to fear of reprisals after giving eyewitness testimony at the trial of those convicted for the killing of Reza Barati. He has not been officially detained since around May 2016, but feels effectively detained due to the hostile environment outside the grounds of the detention centre.

The case decided today responded to the decision of the PNG Supreme Court in the Namah case. That court found that Australia’s detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island violated PNG law.

Unlike in Australia, PNG has constitutional human rights protections. These forbid the deprivation of personal liberty in most cases where a person has not committed a crime.

PNG announced the detention centre would close. Its prime minister, Peter O’Neill, asked Australia to make other arrangements for all asylum seekers still on Manus Island. No such arrangement has yet been made for the plaintiff in this case. He cannot be forcibly returned to Iran, as Iran refuses to accept involuntary returns.


Further reading: How a charter of rights could protect Australians’ fundamental freedoms


What was the High Court asked to determine?

The court was asked to determine whether the Australian government has power under the Constitution to do the things it has done to the plaintiff (and many others).

The Namah decision prompted most of the questions put to the court. They tested whether Australia could validly make and continue its arrangements for offshore processing and detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island, in light of the Supreme Court decision that those arrangements violate constitutional rights protections in PNG.

At the hearing in May 2017, Chief Justice Susan Kiefel asked the plaintiff’s barrister how the Namah decision could bear on the court’s interpretation of the Australian government’s powers under the Migration Act. Those powers are defined by the act and must be interpreted according to the Australian Constitution.

The plaintiff argued the Constitution should be read to imply a limitation on governmental power. Specifically:

That the power is to be used for a legal purpose, meaning a purpose legal where it is exercised, where it has effect.

The PNG Supreme Court found it was illegal for Australia and PNG to bring in and detain asylum seekers on Manus Island. The plaintiff therefore argued that Australia was exercising its powers for an illegal purpose.

The plaintiff’s barrister, Tom Molomby, continued:

… it is somewhat internally contradictory to regard the Australian Constitution as establishing a rule of law for our nation, yet capable of giving power to committing acts in other countries which are contrary to the law of that nation.

The court was also asked to consider whether Australia’s statutory powers to do things necessary for regional processing of asylum seekers in PNG depend on whether those things are legal under PNG law.

The plaintiff argued that:

The agreements being beyond power in Papua New Guinea, they were also beyond power in Australia. There is no power to make an agreement with a party that does not itself have power to make the agreement. There can be no power to perform an impossibility.

The High Court’s reasons

The full bench of the court decided unanimously to reject the plaintiff’s application. The judgment noted that the plaintiff was not able to cite any authority in prior case law or the text or structure of the Constitution for the arguments made.

On this basis, the court concluded that:

… there should be no doubt that neither the legislative nor the executive power of the Commonwealth is constitutionally limited by any need to conform to the domestic law of another country.

The court further decided the plaintiff had misunderstood the significance of the Namah decision in the context of this application. According to the court, this decision said nothing about the PNG government’s capacity to enter into an arrangement with the Australian government to establish or maintain the detention centre.

The PNG Supreme Court decision found that the bringing in, detention and treatment of asylum seekers on Manus Island violated constitutional rights protections in PNG. But it did not mean the PNG government acted beyond power in agreeing its arrangement with Australia.

The High Court rejected the plaintiff’s claim that the Australian government’s statutory power, under the Migration Act, depended on whether relevant actions were legal under PNG law. The court relied on an earlier decision that related to offshore immigration detention in Nauru.

According to the court in that case:

The lawfulness or unlawfulness of executive government action under Australian law or under the law of a foreign country conversely does not determine whether or not that action falls within the scope of the statutory capacity or authority conferred by the section.

The bigger picture

This judgment is one in a series that demonstrates the lack of human rights protections in Australian law. It again reveals the striking breadth of the government’s power to deal with asylum seekers and refugees in ways that directly contravene international law.

However, cracks continue to widen in Australia’s punitive system of mandatory offshore detention for asylum seekers who travel by boat. The agreement Australia had with the US to transfer refugees there from Manus Island remains in doubt.

The lack of interest in the people at the heart of the dilemma was starkly revealed in the leaked transcript of the now-infamous Donald Trump-Malcolm Turnbull phone call.


Further reading: Trump-Turnbull call: trading people like pawns undermines the goals of international co-operation


Earlier this week, Liberal MP Russell Broadbent broke ranks with the government, calling for Australia to take responsibility for detained refugees who do not find resettlement in the US. Broadbent spoke out against the prospect of indefinite detention for people who have not committed any crime.

The ConversationAfter today’s decision, the responsibility to bring Australian law and practice into line with international legal obligations remains squarely with the government. The High Court has not found justification to intervene.

Amy Maguire, Senior Lecturer in International Law and Human Rights, University of Newcastle

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

To the High Court we go: six MPs under clouds in decisions that could undermine the government



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Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce is one of five MPs caught out in the ban in dual citizens holding seats.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Graeme Orr, The University of Queensland

Two green bottles and up to four blue ones. Falling from the parliamentary wall, unless the High Court saves them from the rules about MP qualifications. The six are now-resigned Greens senators Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters, fellow upper house members Matt Canavan (LNP) and Malcolm Roberts (One Nation), and two government members of the lower house, Barnaby Joyce and David Gillespie (both Nationals).

At least that’s the latest count, as of Monday’s referral of Joyce to the court. I hesitate to file this piece lest the number rise again today.

What happens now?

First, a word on process. Gillespie’s case is different from the others, in two ways. He is not a dual citizen but faces claims about his “pecuniary interest” in a shop sub-leased to Australia Post. This is the constitutional rule that knocked out Family First senator Bob Day in April.

Also, Gillespie is being sued by his former Labor Party rival, acting as a “common informer” – a fancy term for an officious bystander who sues to enforce the law.

This avenue to challenge an MP has not been used before. It’s not entirely clear the court has power to declare Gillespie “not duly elected”. (As opposed to exacting a penalty from an MP, in the princely sum of A$200, for any day they sat while under a disqualification.)

The other five – facing dual citizenship claims – are not being sued at all. Rather, parliament has referred their positions to the court. A few things flow from that, aside from the Commonwealth almost certainly having to cover their legal costs.

One is that there is no belligerent plaintiff to argue against, say, Joyce. There will just be the solicitor-general, putting legal arguments for the Commonwealth, plus lawyers for whichever of the other four MPs or their parties choose to be represented.

Yet Joyce, Canavan and Roberts share a desire to convince the High Court that they are legitimate, arguing on related grounds that it might be unfair to unseat them.

Another is that while the election is long over, the High Court says it can undo an election on a reference from parliament. This is due to a quirky, 30-year-old ruling. I say quirky because, for more than a century, there’s been an absolutely strict time limit for challenging elections.

With electoral fraud, unlawful campaigning, or electoral commission stuff-up, a court case must begin within 40 days of the election. Yet the High Court says it can undo election results, long afterwards, over qualifications issues.

What will the MPs argue?

We must await the arguments, but it seems that Joyce, Canavan and Roberts will argue that they either took reasonable steps to renounce (Roberts) or that it was unreasonable to expect them to have known of their dual citizenship (Joyce and Canavan). In a 1992 case, the High Court softened the law against dual citizenship to allow a defence of “reasonable steps” of renunciation.

Roberts was born in India (after partition) to a Welsh father. He took some steps – three emails in one day on the eve of nominating, apparently – to renounce his UK inheritance. Was that enough, given the UK has a set application form and fee for renunciation? Roberts, some time after the election, received notice that his UK citizenship was expunged.

Canavan, Australian-born, asserts that his mother took out Italian citizenship on his behalf, without his knowledge.

Similarly, Joyce, also Australian-born, says he was blindsided to learn he had New Zealand citizenship via his NZ-born father. They want the court to inject a subjective element – actual or constructive knowledge of dual nationality – to avoid a finding that taking no steps to renounce does not meet the idea of “reasonable steps”.

It’s possible Joyce will also argue the details of NZ law. For example, whether it automatically bestowed citizenship on him, or whether he was merely guaranteed it if he applied to activate it.

The Greens pair, by resigning, seemed to admit they were disqualified. But MPs cannot declare themselves improperly elected. Only the court can do that.

Ludlam (New Zealand) and Waters (Canada) were each born overseas, but to Australian parents. They left their birth countries at the tender ages of three years and 11 months respectively.

At least in Waters’ case, her family lore (not law) was that her nationalisation as an Australian toddler terminated any Canadian status. In some countries, you lose your birth citizenship when you take out another nationality. This was the law in Australia until recently.

The logic of the Greens’ political position is to have their two Senate seats filled ASAP. Yet, in substance, their pair are hardly more blameworthy than the other MPs, who seek to fight on. They have hemmed themselves in, however, by resigning.

If the court found their disqualifications were OK, the Greens could reappoint them or any other Greens member, under the old rule for filling a “casual vacancy”.

Finally, to legal consequences. If a senator is declared “unduly elected”, the Australian Electoral Commission conducts a recount. Invariably, the next candidate in the party’s original electoral ticket inherits the seat.

That windfall beneficiary can keep it, or the party could cajole them to resign in favour of … the unelected MP. Because all of these MPs, with sufficient paperwork and knowledge, can fix up their qualifications.

Roberts and Waters say they’ve done that. Joyce and doubtless Canavan have that in train.

In a lower house seat, however, a recount would be crazy. The seat would go to the rival major party, robbing the electorate. Instead, the court effectively triggers a byelection.

In a worst-case scenario for Joyce (or Gillespie), he would recontest that fresh election. A lot would be at stake in New England (or Port Macquarie). But it’s hard to see the electors there treating now-ex-Kiwi Joyce as a fifth columnist.

The law is an unnecessary mess

All this is a law professor’s picnic.

Section 44, as it applies to elections, detracts from, rather than adds to, democracy. Its technicalities are a thicket, catching many a candidate. It sits oddly in a Constitution that never guaranteed a right to vote, leaving that small matter to the national parliament.

It’s time for reform. We inherited the dual citizenship rule, an old rule about fealty to one Crown, from our English forebears.

The ConversationThe founders struck it in stone in the Constitution. Yet state parliaments are fine with dual citizens being elected. So too is New Zealand. And, funnily enough, so nowadays is the UK.

Graeme Orr, Professor of Law, The University of Queensland

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

High Court to rule on whether Barnaby Joyce is a New Zealander



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Barnaby Joyce may be a New Zealand citizen.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government has been rocked by advice from the New Zealand government that Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce might be a citizen of that country, making him ineligible to be a federal MP.

The government is referring the case to the High Court but Malcolm Turnbull, on the basis of legal advice that Joyce’s eligibility won’t be struck down, has asked him to remain in his positions. Section 44 rules out dual citizens standing for parliament.

Joyce told the House of Representatives on Monday morning: “Last Thursday afternoon, the New Zealand High Commission contacted me to advise that, on the basis of preliminary advice from their Department of Internal Affairs which had received inquiries from the New Zealand Labour Party, they considered that I may be a citizen by descent of New Zealand.”

Joyce said he had been shocked. “Neither I, nor my parents, have ever had any reason to believe that I may be a citizen of any other country.”

Joyce was born in Tamworth in 1967 to an Australian mother. “My father, who was born in New Zealand, came to Australia in 1947 as a British subject – in fact we were all British subjects at that time,” he said.

“The concept of New Zealand and Australian citizenship was not created until 1948. Neither my parents nor I have ever applied to register me as a New Zealand citizen.” The New Zealand government had no register recognising him as a New Zealand citizen, he said.

A New Zealand government website says: “If you were born overseas and at least one of your parents is a New Zealand citizen by birth or grant, you are an NZ citizen by descent. To get yourself an NZ passport, you need to register your citizenship.”

Turnbull said the government had sought advice from the solicitor-general. “The government is satisfied that the court would not find Mr Joyce disqualified to sit in the House.

“Nonetheless, in the interest of giving the court the opportunity to clarify the application of this section the government … has decided to refer the matter to the High Court sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns.”

Joyce said that he had asked for the matter to be referred to the court. “Given the strength of the legal advice the government has received, the prime minister has asked that I remain deputy prime minister and continue my ministerial duties.”

Turnbull has written to Opposition Leader Bill Shorten to “offer you the opportunity to nominate any Labor members or senators whose circumstances may raise questions under Section 44 of the Constitution so that the parliament can also refer these matters to the High Court for its consideration.

“There are a number of cases already referred by the Senate and so it would be helpful if all relevant matters court be heard by the court at the same time,” Turnbull wrote.

Labor has not so far had any cases of actual or possible dual nationality arise in this parliament, in contrast to the Greens, the Coalition, and One Nation.

Nationals senator Matt Canavan recently resigned from cabinet, saying his mother had signed him up, without his knowledge, as an Italian citizen. He is disputing whether this is valid. His case is before the High Court. Joyce was sworn into Canavan’s ministerial duties of resources and northern Australia.

Last week the Senate referred One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts to the court to determine whether he was a dual British citizen when he nominated. Two Greens, Larissa Waters and Scott Ludlam, resigned from the Senate after they found they were dual citizens, of Canada and New Zealand respectively.

Turnbull said in his letter that “It is manifestly in the national interest that the High Court have the opportunity to clarify the limits on the operation of Section 44(i) of the Constitution.

“With around half of all Australians having a foreign-born parent, and with many foreign nations having citizenship laws which confer citizenship by descent, regardless of place of birth, the potential for many, possibly millions of Australians unknowingly having dual citizenship is considerable.”

The loss of Joyce would wipe out the government’s one-seat majority, pending a byelection. At the last election, Joyce held off a challenge in his seat of New England from former independent member Tony Windsor.

The opposition is calling for Joyce to stand aside.

The manager of opposition business, Tony Burke, said in the house: “How on earth can this government have somebody in the office of deputy prime minister when they don’t even know if he’s supposed to be in the parliament?

“This is a government reliant on a majority of one.

“What the house is doing right now is saying to the High Court that we are not actually sure if the government does have a majority of one.

“Saying to the High Court of Australia that we have been here for twelve months making laws with a government that may or may not be legitimate. With a parliament that may or may not be voting according to the constitution of this country,” Burke said.

New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English confirmed Joyce’s citizenship. “Unwittingly or not, he’s a New Zealand citizen,” he said.

“These things are almost always accidental,” English said.

Shorten has told Turnbull he has no-one he wants to refer to the High Court to clarify their status. Replying to Turnbull’s letter earlier in the day, Shorten wrote: “I acknowledge your offer to nominate other members or senators to the High Court. The Labor Party has the strictest processes in place to ensure all candidates are compliant with the Constitution prior to their nomination for election. Therefore, I politely decline your office.”

In Question Time Turnbull was unequivocal that Joyce’s position would be vindicated.

“The leader of the National Party, the deputy prime minister, is qualified to sit in this house and the High Court will so hold,” he declared.

He said the government did not refer Joyce to the court because of any doubt about his position, but rather because there was a need in the public interest for the court “to clarify the operation of this section so important to the operation of our parliament”.

Labor tried unsuccessfully to gag Joyce when he was asked a question.

The ConversationThe New Zealand government has an online tool to check whether people are NZ citizens.

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.

Hanson set to refer Malcolm Roberts to the High Court over dual citizenship questions



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Pauline Hanson said Malcolm Roberts has her full backing.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Pauline Hanson is set to move that the High Court consider the eligibility of One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts. There is a question mark over whether Roberts was a dual British citizen when he nominated for parliament.

Hanson’s announcement came after it was obvious a Greens move for a referral would be successful. This followed BuzzFeed News on Tuesday posting online Roberts’ signed application for Australian citizenship, in which he declared he was a British citizen at age 19 in 1974.

Whether Roberts was a dual national has been a long-running issue, with Roberts changing his story, from saying he was never a British citizen to most recently claiming he had renounced his British citizenship but refusing to make public the documentation. Under Section 44 of the Constitution a dual citizen is ineligible to stand for federal parliament.

Hanson and Roberts appeared at an often heated joint news conference, at which she declared he had been “eligible to stand at the time of nomination”.

In a statement, Hanson said that One Nation would be supporting Roberts “in his plan to refer himself to the High Court”. Later the statement was revised to say Hanson would move the referral.

She said it had always been Roberts’ “intention to submit his citizenship documents for public scrutiny”.

“In light of the major parties’ decision not to hold a full inquiry into the citizenships of senators, it was deemed that the High Court would provide senator Roberts the best opportunity to prove he has complied with the Australian Constitution and is lawfully elected,” she said.

“Senator Roberts has my full backing and total support from his fellow One Nation senators.”

Hanson told reporters Roberts’ case was “not straightforward” but “very complex”. “You don’t understand the full situation.”

Asked about what he had said on his application form, Roberts said: “I was a citizen of the UK and colonies … We all know that back then we were very strong members of the Commonwealth, we still are, we sang God Save The Queen until not long before then, I always thought that I was Australian, always thought I was Australian.”

The referral will have general agreement in the Senate. Earlier the government had resisted action against Roberts, with its Senate leader, George Brandis, saying on Tuesday that: “A person lodges an apparently regular nomination for an election, and they are declared to have been elected, then the onus of proof … lies on those who seek to prove that they weren’t validly elected to demonstrate that that is the case”.

The referral of Roberts is the latest in a dramatic series of events that has thrown the Senate’s membership into turmoil and given the High Court an extraordinary number of cases to deal with.

Apart from Roberts’ future, these include ruling on the filling of the places of two Greens senators, Larissa Waters and Scott Ludlam, who resigned because they discovered they were dual nationals, and considering the eligibility of the Nationals’ Matt Canavan, whose mother signed him up as an Italian citizen.

The Senate is also awaiting the arrival of the replacement for former Western Australian Liberal senator Chris Back, who recently retired. As well, Special Minister of State Scott Ryan is on extended medical leave.

The ConversationBut arrangements between the parties are in place to ensure the various court cases and gaps do not affect the voting numbers.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Grattan on Friday: If High Court disqualifies Canavan, Joyce will be scratching for cabinet replacement



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Legal experts are unsure what the High Court may decide on Matt Canavan.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Senate, bordering on the farcical all year, has finally descended into burlesque, with the tale of the bright young cabinet minister whose mum made him a son of her parents’ old country.

Before the strange case of the Nationals’ Matthew Canavan burst into public view, the Senate had already lost four of its number, under various parts of the Constitution’s Section 44, including the Greens’ two co-deputies within a week.

And then there’s been the media chase after One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts, in pursuit of documents to back his assertion he didn’t hold British citizenship when he nominated for the Senate.

Canavan’s story of how he was signed up for Italian citizenship – unknown to him, he says – by his Australian-born mother of Italian heritage, is as bizarre as they come.

It’s anyone’s guess whether the High Court will find he’s in breach of Section 44, which rules out dual citizens standing for parliament.

There are differences here with the circumstances of the two Greens, who were born overseas and hadn’t quashed their other citizenship, making their ineligibility clearer cut. Neither chose to dispute the situation.

Legal experts are unsure what the High Court may conclude on Canavan. There are also claims and counter-claims of what one is required, or not required, to do to become Italian.

So, it is not surprising the government has decided to fight for Canavan, who has resigned as a minister while his parliamentary status is determined.

For the Nationals, the stakes are particularly high and complicated.

If Canavan were found ineligible to have been elected, there’d be a countback, with his replacement being Joanna Lindgren, a former senator who lost in 2016. Lindgren is a grand-niece of the late Neville Bonner, the first Indigenous person elected to federal parliament.

A Liberal when she was a senator, Lindgren would likely find herself in the Nationals’ partyroom.

Where she sat would not be her decision but that of the Queensland Liberal National Party. The two parties are merged in that state, though they’re sharp-elbowed bedfellows, who break into their separate tribes once in Canberra. It is understood the LNP would not allow the loss of Canavan to disrupt the present balance of numbers coming out of Queensland.

Until the court case is decided – by year’s end on the optimistic assessment – Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce is acting in Canavan’s resources and northern Australia portfolio.

This will overload Joyce, who already looks under strain, this week making injudicious comments about the alleged theft of water by irrigators. Even if Canavan survives, his immediate absence from cabinet is a blow to Joyce, because he provides policy heft.

If the case goes against Canavan, Joyce would face a dilemma in who to elevate to cabinet.

The most obvious choice, on seniority and experience, would be the only National in the outer ministry: Small Business Minister Michael McCormack. But McCormack is from New South Wales. The Nationals would be desperate to keep up their representation from Queensland, a vital state for them, and the Coalition generally, at the election.

Queenslander Keith Pitt is an assistant minister, but his critics say he’s been difficult rather than supportive in that role. Then you get to backbenchers such as senator Barry O’Sullivan, based in Toowoomba, and David Littleproud, from the regional seat of Maranoa.

Littleproud is spoken of as a man with a future, but is a newcomer. There are wildly opposite views on O’Sullivan, a one-time detective and later businessman, whose performances with Senate committee witnesses can resemble the tougher side of police interrogation. His critics think he should be bumped from the Senate ticket at the next opportunity; his admirers believe he could be cabinet material.

The High Court decision on Canavan will at least provide clarity on a more obscure aspect of the dual citizenship ban.

Inevitably, however, the slew of actual or potential victims of Section 44 has led to calls for constitutional change.

There are arguments for and against the dual citizenship prohibition but convenience should not be included. Notwithstanding the peculiar Canavan situation, surely aspiring politicians should be able to ascertain if they have a foreign citizenship.

On the question of substance, some argue that in a multicultural community there should not be a requirement to relinquish citizenship of another country. There is the counter argument – which I think is more compelling – that the single allegiance is a reasonable condition to impose on those responsible for making national decisions.

Dual citizenship could throw up perceived conflicts of interest – for example, for trade or foreign ministers.

Two other parts of the wide-ranging Section 44 claiming victims this year relate to having a direct or indirect pecuniary interest in an agreement with the Commonwealth, designed to prevent corruption and conflicts of interest, and being “under sentence, or subject to be sentenced” for an offence carrying a year or more imprisonment.

The eligibility of a House of Representatives Nationals MP, David Gillespie, an assistant minister, is being challenged in the High Court by Labor on the ground of having an indirect pecuniary interest, because of a post office located within a shopping centre owned by a company in which he is a shareholder.

In 1977 Malcolm Fraser won a change to Section 15 of the Constitution to ensure a casual Senate vacancy is filled by a member of the same party. This followed shenanigans by a couple of conservative state governments in filling vacancies in the Whitlam government’s time.

The ConversationThat change was simple and demonstrably the right thing to do. In contrast, an attempt to alter the dual citizenship ban – and indeed any other qualification rule in Section 44 – would be more contested. That, and today’s generally negative electoral mood, would likely doom any referendum.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/axx2w-6d8662?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.

Explainer: is a High Court challenge about to bring down the Turnbull government?



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Labor will argue David Gillespie ineligible to be an MP based on Section 44(v) of the Constitution.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Lorraine Finlay, Murdoch University

Labor is set to launch a High Court challenge over the eligibility of Assistant Health Minister David Gillespie to sit in federal parliament. The case has been brought by Peter Alley, the ALP candidate who ran against Gillespie in Lyne at the 2016 federal election.

The action is based on Gillespie, a Nationals MP, owning a small shopping centre in Port Macquarie that contains an Australian Post outlet. As Australia Post is a government-owned corporation, Labor claims this results in Gillespie having an indirect pecuniary interest contrary to Section 44(v) of the Constitution.

If the High Court agrees, Gillespie would be ineligible to sit as an MP.

What does the Constitution say?

Section 44 of the Constitution sets out several grounds of disqualification from holding parliamentary office.

Under Section 44(v), someone “shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives” if they have:

… any direct or indirect pecuniary interest in any agreement with the Public Service of the Commonwealth otherwise than as a member and in common with the other members of an incorporated company consisting of more than 25 persons.

Before this year, the High Court had only considered this section on one occasion, in 1975.

In that case, Chief Justice Garfield Barwick took an extremely narrow interpretation of the provision, based on a finding that its historic purpose was to protect parliament’s freedom and independence from the influence of the Crown.

An “indirect pecuniary influence” would only be disqualifying where it involved a legal or equitable interest in a contract with ongoing obligations, and where the possibility of financial gain by the agreement’s existence or performance could conceivably allow the Crown to influence an MP in relation to parliamentary affairs.

Under this narrow interpretation – which had been subject to considerable criticism – Gillespie would not be considered ineligible based on his interest in the shopping centre.

The Bob Day case

The High Court revisited the meaning of “indirect pecuniary interest” in April this year. It unanimously held that former Family First Senator Bob Day had an “indirect pecuniary interest” at the time of the 2016 federal election, and was therefore ineligible to be a senator.

Day had already resigned from the Senate before this ruling. But the High Court’s decision was significant for two key reasons.

  • The first was its immediate importance in deciding how a replacement senator was to be selected.

  • The second, which will now be critical when considering Gillespie’s future, was its reconsideration of what constitutes an “indirect pecuniary interest” under Section 44(v).

The Day case concerned a lease agreement between the Commonwealth and Fullarton Investments Pty Ltd for premises Day used as his electorate office. There were a variety of ways in which Day was connected to both the company and property. However, a fact the court found to be particularly significant was that in February 2016, Fullarton Investments directed that rental payments be made into a Day-owned bank account.

The High Court declined to follow the 1975 precedent and adopted a broader interpretation of Section 44(v). Importantly, it found the section had a wider purpose than solely protecting parliament’s independence from executive influence. It was also intended as an anti-corruption provision, designed to protect against potential conflicts of interest by ensuring the public duties of MPs are kept separate from their personal interests.

Under this broader view, an individual would be disqualified where there was an expectation of financial gain if the agreement in question was performed. The court would look at the agreement’s practical effect when making this assessment.

High Court justice Patrick Keane observed:

It is enough that the person’s pockets were or might be affected.

However, it was noted there will be no relevant interest:

… if the agreement in question is one ordinarily made between government and a citizen.

The case against Gillespie

So, is Gillespie ineligible based upon this new, broader interpretation of Section 44(v)?

There is no question of a direct financial interest in this case. Rather, the information currently available suggest that a company owned by Gillespie and his wife leases space in a shopping centre it owns to an Australia Post licensee.

The possible financial interest in this case certainly seems to be more remote than in Day’s case. However, there is still sufficient uncertainty surrounding the outer limits of section 44(v) for this case to be of real concern to the Turnbull government.

What happens now?

If the High Court finds Gillespie is incapable of sitting as an MP under Section 44(v) there would necessarily be a by-election in Lyne.

Given the Turnbull government only has a one-seat majority, the immediate stakes are as high as they could possibly be.

There is also a broader issue worth considering. Gillespie is the third member of the 45th parliament – after Day and Rod Culleton – to have their constitutional eligibility challenged before the courts. In Day’s case, High Court Justice Stephen Gageler emphasised the importance of certainty in this area, so candidates and MPs know where they stand.

The ConversationGiven recent controversies, it would seem an opportune time to review Section 44 to make sure the disqualification provisions in our Constitution are clear, fair, and reflect voters’ real concerns.

Lorraine Finlay, Lecturer in Law, Murdoch University

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