Four MPs resign as citizenship crisis causes more havoc


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Update

Voters in four states will face byelections after three Labor MPs and a crossbencher announced they were resigning from parliament in the wake of a landmark High Court decision disqualifying ACT Labor senator Katy Gallagher on the grounds that she was a dual British citizen when she nominated for the 2016 election.

Labor’s Josh Wilson (WA), Justine Keay (TAS), and Susan Lamb (QLD) and the Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie (SA) quit within hours of the judgement.

Another byelection will also come from the proposed resignation of the ALP’s Tim Hammond (WA) who is stepping down for family reasons.

Lamb, who holds the highly marginal Queensland seat of Longman will have to renounce her British citizenship before she can recontest her seat. Bill Shorten said he was confident she could do so in time for a byelection.

Earlier story

The High Court has disqualified ACT Labor senator Katy Gallagher from sitting in parliament, in a decision opening the way for four byelections, three of them in Labor seats.

The decision, reigniting the citizenship crisis, has transformed the immediate political landscape, overshadowing Tuesday’s budget and putting immense pressure on Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, who delivers his budget reply on Thursday, to have three ALP MPs immediately quit.

Gallagher was ineligible to sit because she had not completed the renunciation of her dual British citizenship when she nominated for the 2016 election.

The four MPs in the firing line are Susan Lamb in the Queensland seat of Longman (0.8% margin), Justine Keay from Braddon in Tasmania (2.2%), Josh Wilson who holds Fremantle in Western Australia (7.5%) and crossbencher Rebekha Sharkie from the South Australian seat of Mayo (5.4%).

Labor already faces a byelection for the seat of Perth, with Tim Hammond announcing last week he would resign for family reasons.

Attorney-General Christian Porter declared the court had provided a “crisp and crystal-clear clarification” of the law. He called for the resignations of the Labor MPs by the end of the day.

Porter flatly rejected Shorten’s earlier statement that the court had set a new precedent. Shorten said Labor would now consider the implications of the decision.

Porter said for Shorten to claim it was a reinterpretation was “talking absolute rubbish”.

“We all knew what the circumstance was last October”, when the court ruled on the case of the Nationals’ Matt Canavan, Porter said.

“Bill Shorten must require the resignation of those three Labor members today, and that must occur before close of business today,” he said.

Neither side looks forward to a plethora of byelections, which are expensive and with unpredictable fallout, so close to a general election.

The contest in Longman would be testing for Labor. The Liberals would have a prospect of picking up Mayo. Sharkie is from the Centre Alliance, formerly the Nick Xenophon Team, the fortunes of which have collapsed.

University of Sydney constitutional expert Anne Twomey said the crux of the court’s decision was that the test of someone having taken reasonable steps to renounce their foreign citizenship – the argument on which Gallagher relied – applied only when the country actually or effectively would not let the person renounce. This did not apply with UK citizenship.

Twomey said the four MPs in question, who were all British citizens when they nominated, were in similar circumstances to Gallagher’s.

She added that “the real problem will be for those people from countries where it is difficult to renounce or it takes a very long time.

“Parties will have to complete pre-selection at least a year before an election to allow sufficient time for renunciation, and even this might not be enough for people from some countries.

“It will also narrow the field for filling casual vacancies to those who have no foreign citizenship, so that renunciation problems can be avoided. The big message here for anyone who might want to be a member of parliament in the future is to renounce now.”

George Williams, from the University of New South Wales, said there could be more MPs caught by the decision.

As a senator, Gallagher’s disqualification does not trigger a byelection – she is set to be replaced on a recount by the next person on the ALP ticket, David Smith.

Sharkie said she would now take urgent legal advice.

“It is my belief that the particulars of my circumstances are materially different to Senator Gallagher’s case. My paperwork was lodged and received by the UK Home Office before the election was called. My paperwork was returned before the election was held.”

Porter rejected her argument that her circumstances were different.

Gallagher said she had always acted on legal advice which indicated she satisfied the eligibility requirements. But she respected court’s decision.

“I believe that I have more to contribute to public life and I will take the time to talk with Labor Party members on how I can do this over the months ahead,” she said.

The citizenship crisis has claimed nine federal parliamentarians since the election. Another two, Barnaby Joyce and John Alexander, were either ruled ineligible or resigned but are still in parliament after being returned at byelections.

The ConversationIn the earlier stages of the citizenship crisis Shorten had been adamant that all Labor MPs had fulfilled the constitutional requirement on citizenship.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Sharkie told by Turnbull she may have to go to High Court



File 20171109 27169 1oeueva.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Rebekha Sharkie was registered as renouncing her UK citizenship after she nominated for election.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Malcolm Turnbull has told Rebekha Sharkie, the Nick Xenophon Team’s sole member in the House of Representatives, that her eligibility may have to be determined by the High Court.

Sharkie, born in Britain, was registered as renouncing her UK citizenship after she nominated for last year’s election, although she started the process a good deal earlier.

Turnbull rang her on Thursday before he left for the APEC meeting in Vietnam. Sharkie had been in the media saying she wanted to meet him about the citizenship crisis.

She said in a statement that he asked her about dates. She completed her forms on April 19 last year; the material was sent express international post. On June 2 the Home Office acknowledged her application had been received. She nominated for Mayo on or about June 7. The Home Office registered her renunciation on June 29.

Under Section 44(i) of the Constitution a person is ineligible to nominate for election to federal parliament if they are a dual citizen.

Sharkie, who said she had been open throughout about her citizenship status, produced documentation, and supported a full audit of MPs, said: “The prime minister in our conversation suggested I may have to refer myself to the High Court”.

“I believe that I took all steps that were required by the UK to renounce any entitlement to UK citizenship, that were within my power to take. I had no control as to the speed at which the UK Home Office processed my application but I note that well over a month would have passed before I actually nominated for the seat of Mayo.”

Sharkie is the latest name to be canvassed in the list of parliamentarians who might be ineligible to sit in parliament, following those of Tasmanian crossbench senator Jacqui Lambie and assorted Liberal and Labor MPs.

Liberal backbencher John Alexander is waiting for Home Office advice as to whether he is a British citizen by descent. Labor’s Justine Keay and Susan Lamb are in similar circumstances to Sharkie.

Meanwhile, Bill Shorten and Turnbull escalated their fight over the disclosure resolution the government plans to put to parliament and related issues – although Turnbull also signalled he expects to reach agreement with Shorten about the disclosure requirements.

Labor wants to toughen the terms of the disclosures MPs have to make and to put a December 1 deadline on them.

In a wide-ranging letter to Turnbull, Shorten sought a commitment the government would not use its numbers to make “partisan referrals” to the High Court; Labor also wanted a commitment that any ministers referred would stand aside from the ministry.

As well, he asked that Communications Minister Mitch Fifield, who knew of former Senate president Stephen Parry’s likely British citizenship before it was revealed and then confirmed, should be referred to the privileges committee.

Shorten rejected a Turnbull proposition that only non-controversial legislation be considered for the rest of this year. While the New England byelection is on, the government does not have a working majority in the lower house.

Turnbull has compromised on his original longer timetable, now saying December 7 is an appropriate deadline for the declarations. The lower house could then consider the declarations, take legal advice and “resume the following week to determine the matter of referrals”, he said in a letter to Shorten, composed on the VIP aircraft on the way to Vietnam.

Turnbull made it clear that the government would refer Labor members to the court.

“You appear to be asking me to not refer to the High Court Labor members who were UK citizens at the time of nomination but claim that lodging a renunciation declaration prior to that nomination protects them from disqualification,” he wrote.

“I cannot give you that assurance. The government will vote to refer any individual to the High Court if there are substantial grounds for believing they are in breach of the Constitution.”

He said the proposition that Fifield was in breach of privilege was “absurd”.

But despite earlier fiercely attacking Shorten for playing politics, Turnbull wrote that “nonetheless we are not far apart in terms of the nature of the disclosures sought. As you know in the course of our meeting when your anxiety about your dual citizen MPs became apparent, I offered to include a section of the disclosures for them to foreshadow the arguments they would put to the High Court if referred.”

The ConversationTurnbull said the government would consider Shorten’s revised wording of the disclosure overnight “and hope to resolve this tomorrow”.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/k3zus-7afe23?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.