Photographer: Brendon Thorne
politics

Australian Lawmaker Resigns as Dual-Citizenship Fiasco Widens

  • Announcement leaves government in minority status temporarily
  • Turnbull says government will continue to function normally

One of Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s lawmakers resigned from parliament, saying he may be a dual citizen, leaving the government at least temporarily in minority status.

John Alexander, speaking to reporters, said it’s possible he also holds British citizenship through his father. “Therefore it is my obligation that I must resign,” the 66-year-old said in Sydney on Saturday.

The citizenship scandal has already claimed five lawmakers, including former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, with the High Court ruling last month they were ineligible to sit in parliament. Joyce had been the only lower house lawmaker caught up in the affair, and the court ruling cost the prime minister his one-seat majority. 

Joyce, who has since renounced his New Zealand citizenship, is seeking to regain his seat in a special election on Dec. 2, which he’s expected to win. Alexander confirmed he intends to recontest his seat of Bennelong, and there’s a good chance of reclaiming it as he won with a 9.7 percent margin last year.

Turnbull, speaking from Vietnam after the announcement, rejected suggestions a general election should be held, and said Alexander had done the right thing. “As I’ve said publicly and privately, if members believe that they are ineligible to sit in the parliament, they shouldn’t sit in the parliament,” he said.

Stalling Agenda

Independent lawmakers have agreed to support the government so it remains in office. Still, the issue appears set to drag on into 2018 amid questions about the origins of several other lawmakers -- distracting the government and potentially stalling its legislative agenda, including company tax cuts.

The Liberals’ leader in the Senate, Stephen Parry, quit parliament on Nov. 1 after it was confirmed he was a British citizen. Two independent senators, Rebekha Sharkie and Jacqui Lambie, have also said they’re looking into whether they could be dual citizens.

The government hasn’t ruled out referring four lawmakers from the main opposition Labor party to the High Court. Labor has so far skirted the scandal, with leader Bill Shorten saying his party has proper vetting procedures to ensure would-be lawmakers renounce any dual citizenships before they nominate as a candidate, as required by the constitution.

— With assistance by Jason Scott

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