Grattan on Friday: Turnbull government reels from new twist in the Parry affair



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Malcolm Turnbull’s current mood about how all this is playing out can be easily imagined.
Dan Peled/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The sudden exit from parliament of Senate president Stephen Parry has turned into a toxic blame game, in a further sign of a government crumbling into chaos.

Malcolm Turnbull and deputy Senate leader Mathias Cormann lashed out at Parry for not publicly revealing earlier his probable British dual citizenship, confirmed this week. Then – oops. It turns out Parry had shared his circumstances with some senior colleagues.

Unsettled by the odium now flowing in his direction, Parry has revealed that when the Nationals’ Fiona Nash in August announced she’d been informed she was a British citizen by descent, he realised he likely was as well.

He spoke to “various ministers”. Though he wasn’t ordered to shut up about his situation, the tone of the conversations suggested he say nothing until the High Court ruled in the “citizenship seven” cases, with the government believing that its two ministers, Barnaby Joyce and Nash, would be found eligible to sit in parliament.

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield has confirmed he was one of the ministers Parry consulted.

“Former senator Parry mentioned to me a few weeks ago that he was endeavouring to check his family’s records,” Fifield said in a statement late Thursday. “The onus is on all senators and members to satisfy themselves of their circumstances and I encouraged senator Parry to do so. He called me on Monday to say that he had sought advice from the British Home Office and had advised the attorney-general of this.”

It is believed Fifield did not discuss the timing of the court decision with Parry.

Turnbull was not among those Parry spoke to during those weeks. His current mood about how all this is playing out can be easily imagined.

Turnbull said at a Wednesday news conference in Jerusalem that he was disappointed that Parry “didn’t make public this issue … quite some time ago”.

“I learnt about it probably about the same time you did,” he told journalists.

He wasn’t the only one badly caught out. Brandis had declared he had “absolutely no reason to believe” there were any more Coalition MPs who were dual citizens. That was on Sunday television – just a day before Parry landed a grenade in his lap on Monday.

Brandis that day informed the Prime Minister’s Office, but the information was not passed on immediately to Turnbull. Why? It is said because of the lack of clarity at that stage about the facts.

What an incredible train of events. Instead of telling the Senate’s presiding officer that he should be transparent, for the sake of the integrity of both the government and the parliament, senior government members allegedly encouraged him to wait and see.

This can only reinforce the public’s deep distrust of politicians.

Richard Goyder, outgoing managing director of Wesfarmers, spoke for many when told the National Press Club (before the Parry blowback) that the affair was “almost the straw which broke the camel’s back” on trust.

“To have someone in a position of real authority in the country sit on information, and even sit on it from the prime minister, and then hope bad news went away … and not deal with it – I do think that has an impact,” he said.

And now what started out as Parry’s failure to disclose in timely fashion has morphed into something with hints of a cover up by ministers. The opposition has been given another break.

It hardly seemed possible this week could be as bad as last, which saw the Michaelia Cash-AWU debacle and the High Court blow that felled two ministers, triggering a byelection in Joyce’s New England seat. But it has been.

The Parry affair has turbo-charged the pressure for an audit of all MPs’ parliamentary eligibility, with some Liberal MPs jumping on the bandwagon, using it as leverage in the internal Liberal wars.

Kevin Andrews, a political enemy of Turnbull, said on Sky that “Australians are looking for strong and decisive leadership” – adding that if he were prime minister, he’d be asking the Australian Electoral Commission to do an audit.

Eric Abetz also backed an audit, declaring in an interview with the ABC “chances are” more dual citizens are in parliament. For good measure, Abetz, though defending Parry, said he’d have advised him to “have thrown his lot in with the other seven”.

The government has dug in against an audit, arguing it would be complex and that it’s up to individuals to check out their citizenship, or for others to bring forward allegations.

Turnbull was typically hyperbolic. “What is an audit?” he asked. “Does that mean that somebody is going to undertake extensive genealogical research on every member of parliament and senator? Undertake extensive research into foreign laws?”

Well, actually, the auditor would ask the questions that careful candidates now ask themselves and any experts to whom they may need to turn.

Obviously there’s a real fear in the government that an audit could find more MPs in breach and lead to further byelections, at worst threatening the government and at best causing a shambles. With its back against the wall, it’s been a mercy for the Coalition that Labor – probably also nervous despite having good checking processes – has been (so far) on a unity ticket in opposing an audit.

Adding to the government’s pain this week has been Liberal-National scuffling over who’ll get Parry’s lucrative post, and ugly Liberal in-fighting as conservative enemies of cabinet minister Christopher Pyne, a moderate who is a ferocious factional player, tossed out dirt about him.

The scrapping over the Senate presidency is likely to be resolved in favour of the Liberals, but it highlights the present unhelpful tensions between the Coalition partners. Equally unhelpful is the assault against Pyne, which has a further negative spin off for the South Australian Liberals, already struggling ahead of next year’s state election.

The ConversationThe Turnbull government has become like a plane with its engines stalled, hurtling groundwards, with hopes of repowering frustrated at every turn.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

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Parry’s exit triggers Liberal-National fight over Senate presidency


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Senate president Stephen Parry has announced he will resign immediately from parliament after the United Kingdom government advised that he was a British citizen.

Confirming the latest blow to the Turnbull government, Parry said he was quitting now that the court’s Friday ruling had “given absolute clarity to the meaning and application of Section 44(1)” of the constitution.

Parry’s British citizenship is via his late father who came to Australia as a child. He only checked out his situation with British authorities after the court ruling, indicating publicly on Tuesday that he was awaiting information.

Parry’s departure is feeding into the current’s tensions between the Nationals and the Liberals, with New South Wales National John “Wacka” Williams putting up his hand for the position of Senate president.

The post has never been held by a member of the Nationals or its predecessor the Country party, and the Liberals will want to keep it in their own hands.

Liberal frontrunners would include the chief government whip in the Senate, David Bushby, who is from Tasmania, and South Australia’s Liberal David Fawcett, who is deputy government whip in the Senate.

The government puts up a nominee who is then voted on by the Senate. The Liberal candidate is routinely chosen by Liberal senators but there might be pressure this time to include the Nationals in the decision.

Williams, the Nationals whip in the Senate, is a deputy president and so used to occupying the Senate chair. “I’d like to see more discipline in the chamber, especially at question time”, he said on Wednesday.

Williams pointed out he has only 20 months left in Parliament – he will retire at the end of this term. “For 20 months it would be good if the Liberal party supported the National party to do the job”.

The acting parliamentary leader of the Nationals, senator Nigel Scullion said that “Wacka would make a great president for the Senate.”

But Liberal senator Eric Abetz said: “This is a Liberal Party position, it always has been and always will be.”

There was tension between the Coalition partners last week when Malcolm Turnbull made deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop acting prime minister while he is overseas, rather than Scullion.

Parry is set to be replaced as a Tasmanian senator on a countback by Richard Colbeck, a former minister who was next on the Liberal ticket, although the process will have to be formally decided by the High Court.

Calls continue to come for a full audit of the citizenship of parliamentarians, including from Liberals such as Craig Kelly, but this is being resisted by both the government and the opposition.

The ConversationIn his resignation statement Parry appealed to senators not to further burden by too many references an overloaded Senate committee system. “There are only so many hours that a senator can apply to this work. It is important that the fine reputation of our Senate committees continues to be well regarded here and internationally”.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Newspoll 54-46 to Labor as Turnbull’s ratings slide further. If Parry DQ’d, a Green may be unelected


Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s Newspoll, conducted 26-29 October from a sample of 1620, gave Labor its third successive 54-46 lead. Primary votes were 37% Labor (steady since last fortnight), 35% Coalition (down 1), 10% Greens (steady) and 9% One Nation (steady). This is Turnbull’s 22nd successive Newspoll loss as PM.

31% were satisfied with Turnbull’s performance (down 1) and 59% were dissatisfied (up 3), for a net approval of -28. In the last five weeks, Turnbull has lost 11 points on net approval, and Kevin Bonham says this is Turnbull’s worst net rating since early April. Shorten’s net approval was down two points to -24. The two leaders combined have a net approval of -52, which Bonham says is the third worst of this term.

According to Newspoll, the Michaelia Cash affair and the ousting of Barnaby Joyce by the High Court have had little impact on voting intentions. In Cash’s case, the general public is less concerned with political scandals than the political media and partisans.

If the Coalition were reduced to a minority government, there would probably be a public reaction. But the Coalition still holds 75 of the 149 occupied House seats, and Joyce is very likely to retain New England.

If pulling out of the Paris climate agreement “could result in lower electricity prices” (a dubious proposition), voters would favour pulling out 45-40.

Tasmanian Liberal Senator Stephen Parry’s possible dual citizenship could unelect Green Nick McKim

Tasmanian Liberal Senator Stephen Parry’s father may have been a British citzen, in which case Parry is probably a British citizen by descent. Update afternoon on 1 November: Parry is indeed a British citizen, and will resign from the Senate.

Given the High Court’s ruling on 27 October, Parry would be disqualified if he is a dual citizen, and his seat would be taken by Liberal Richard Colbeck. However, there were many more below the line votes in Tasmania than in other states at the last Federal election. If Parry is excluded from the count, slightly different preference flows flip the 12th and final seat from a 141 vote Greens win to a 227 vote One Nation win according to @angrygoat.

The question is whether the High Court will unelect a sitting Senator who has done nothing wrong himself. If they do, McKim will be replaced by One Nation’s Kate McCulloch, changing the Senate balance of power for the remainder of this term.

SSM plebiscite turnout and polling

As at Friday 27 October, the ABS estimated it had received 12.3 million same sex marriage plebiscite forms (77.0% of the electorate). Turnout increased from 74.5% on 20 October. This is the second last turnout report, with the final one to be released on 7 November, the last day for envelopes to be received. The result will be declared on 15 November.

Update Wednesday morning 1 November: In Newspoll, 76% of respondents have already voted, and another 10% say they will definitely vote. I am dubious that 10% are going to vote at this late stage. Of the 76% who have voted, Yes leads 62-35 (59-38 last fortnight from the 65% who had voted then). The remaining 24% support Yes 47-34. For the whole sample, Yes led by 59-35 (56-37 last fortnight).

Essential 54-46 to Labor

After a bad sample for Labor last fortnight, Essential has returned to 54-46 to Labor, a two point gain for Labor since last fortnight. Primary votes were 37% Labor (up 1), 36% Coalition (down 1), 10% Greens (up 1), 7% One Nation (down 1) and 3% Nick Xenophon Team (steady). This poll was conducted over the last two weeks from a sample of 1820. Additional questions are based on one week’s sample.

By 54-23, voters did not agree that the NBN would meet Australia’s future Internet needs (47-22 in October 2016). By 43-24, they supported the Labor NBN plan over the Liberal NBN (42-27 last year). By 39-19, voters blamed the Turnbull government over the previous Labor government for the NBN’s problems.

43% said their home was connected to the NBN, and 12% their workplace. Of those with an NBN connection, 52% said their service was better than the old one, and 17% worse.

By 50-30, voters disapproved of giving $50 billion in tax cuts to medium and large businesses. By 46-31, voters agreed with a negative vs a positive statement about these tax cuts.

YouGov primary votes: 36% Coalition, 33% Labor, 10% Greens, 9% One Nation

Update 1 November: According to the Poll Bludger, primary votes in YouGov were 36% Coalition (up 2 since last fortnight), 33% Labor (up 1), 10% Greens (down 1) and 9% One Nation (down 2). So once again Labor’s primary vote is much lower than in Newspoll or Essential. The two party result, from respondent allocated preferences, was an unchanged 51-49 to the Coalition.

Voters backed legalising voluntary euthanasia 69-10. By 58-33, they thought the gender pay gap a problem. By 64-27, they thought sexual harassment widespread. By 58-32, voters thought the government is not very serious about cutting carbon emissions.

Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial elections: 7 November

US Federal elections are held every two years, and most states hold their elections concurrently with Federal elections. Two exceptions are Virginia and New Jersey, which hold their elections for state governor in the year following the Presidential election. These elections will be held on 7 November, with results from 11am 8 November Melbourne time.

In Virginia, there is a one-term limit, so incumbent Democrat governor Terry McAuliffe cannot seek re-election. The contest is between Democratic candidate Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie. There is wide variety in the polls: some have Gillespie barely ahead or tied, some show Northam leading by 7 points, and Quinnipiac gives Northam a 17-point lead.

In New Jersey, incumbent Republican governor Chris Christie cannot seek re-election as he has served two terms. Democrat Phil Murphy leads Republican Kim Guadagno by double digit margins in all polls.

There is also a US Congress by-election in Utah’s 3rd Congressional District on 7 November. Trump won this district 47-23 with third party candidates performing best in Utah. In 2012, Romney crushed Obama 78-20, so the Republican should win easily.

The ConversationAs well as gubernatorial elections, there will be legislative elections in Virginia and New Jersey. At the 2018 midterm elections, governors of many populous states will be up for election.

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

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

New citizenship bombshell – Senate President Stephen Parry may be British


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government has been thrown into a fresh crisis, with Senate President Stephen Parry announcing he may be a dual British citizen as a result of his father having been born in the UK.

Parry’s bombshell comes after Friday’s High Court decision knocked two Nationals ministers, Barnaby Joyce and Fiona Nash, out of parliament, triggering a byelection in Joyce’s New England seat.

Attorney-General George Brandis, asked on Sunday whether he could provide an assurance there were no other Coalition MPs sitting in parliament who were foreign citizens, told Sky: “I have absolutely no reason to believe that there are”.

Parry, a senator from Tasmania, is the first Liberal to be caught in the dual citizenship debacle.

He said in a statement issued late on Tuesday that he had examined his situation after Friday’s court decision which gave “absolute clarity” about Section 44 of the Constitution.

Parry did not explain why he did not check his citizenship earlier, notably when Nash announced she had British citizenship via her Scottish father.

Parry has now sought clarification from the UK government. He said if he were found to be a British citizen he would resign from parliament without waiting for the outcome of any referral to the High Court because “I believe the High Court has made it abundantly clear what action is required”.

Parry said his father was born in the UK and moved to Australia as a boy in 1951. “He married my mother in 1960 and I was born that same year in Burnie. I have always regarded my late father as Australian, particularly as he undertook his national service and participated as a member of the Australian Army Reserve and voted in every Australian election since adulthood.”

He said he wrote to the British Home Office on Monday to seek clarity. “This was the first opportunity to do so since the High Court ruling,” he said. The Home Office had sought further details from him on Tuesday, which he had provided, and he was waiting for a response.

“Depending upon the outcome, I may seek further legal advice before reporting back to the Senate.”

Even if Parry quit parliament before a High Court ruling on his eligibility to have been elected, the court would need to clarify his status to determine whether the vacancy would be filled by a countback or a casual vacancy, with the Liberal Party choosing the candidate.

The next candidate on the ticket in a countback would be former Liberal senator Richard Colbeck, who was pushed down the ticket at the 2016 election in a factional power play involving fellow Tasmanian Eric Abetz.

Colbeck, a former minister, scotched any suggestion that if he were elected in a recount he would resign to allow Parry to return. He told The Conversation he was waiting to see what the situation was but if the seat came to him “I’d take it in a heartbeat”. He added that his parents and grandparents were born in Australia.

Abetz said in a statement he was shocked by the Parry news. “Senator Parry has a long and distinguished career of service to the people of Tasmania and Australia. If he is found ineligible, his departure would be a huge loss and I am hopeful that any advice from the United Kingdom will allow him to remain in the Senate.”

Parry, who turned 57 on Tuesday, has been Senate president since July 2014. He was elected at the 2004 election, entering the Senate in 2005. He is a former policeman and a former funeral director.

In his maiden speech he told parliament: “I am a descendant of the First Fleet convicts who arrived on January 26, 1788, onboard the ships the Scarborough and the Prince of Wales.”

Brandis told a news conference on Tuesday that Parry had first informed him of his situation on Monday morning. “Evidently, before the High Court’s decision, it wasn’t something that he’d appreciated may be problematic for him and we still don’t know whether it is problematic until the inquiries, which he has initiated of the UK Home Office, have been completed,” Brandis said. He said Parry expected an answer in the next day or so.

Brandis continued to fend off calls for an audit of all MPs. “If anybody wants to make an allegation that a member of parliament was not duly elected because of Section 44 or for any other issue for that matter, then let them make that allegation.

“But in relation to the government members, and also others including the two Green senators, people have acted honourably, they have come forward as soon as they’ve identified they may have a problem,” he said.

Brandis said the issue of Section 44 of the Constitution, prohibiting dual citizens being elected, needed to be dealt with “one way or another”.

“It may be the issue can be dealt with legislatively without putting the public to a referendum,” he said.

“Where 51% of people either were born overseas or have a parent who was born overseas, it sits oddly with the notion of a multicultural democracy that operation of Section 44 as we now understand from the High Court could potentially disqualify millions of Australians from standing for parliament.”

Acting Labor leader Tanya Plibersek said it was “extraordinary that the president of the Senate – who oversaw several High Court referrals – did not reflect on his own eligibility until just days ago”.

“Malcolm Turnbull must tell Australians whether he knew there were doubts over senator Parry’s eligibility,” she said.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale renewed his call for a comprehensive audit of MPs’ citizenship status.

Turnbull, who is in Israel for the Beersheba commemoration, was asked (before the Parry story broke publicly): “Do you ever feel you’ve had enough? You’d just like to – it’s all been too much? You’ve just had enough of the whole political scene?”

He replied: “I have never had more fun in my life”.

Postscript

The ConversationLiberal backbencher Craig Kelly has told the ABC’s Lateline there should be a comprehensive audit; he suggested it should be done by the Australian Electoral Commission.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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