Australia’s Dual-Nationality Crisis Claims Eighth Victim

Updated on
  • Tasmania independent senator Jacqui Lambie quits parliament
  • Departure adds to sense of chaos engulfing Australian politics

Senator Jacqui Lambie in 2014.

Photographer: Stefan Postles/Getty Images

A dual-citizenship crisis roiling Australian politics has claimed its eighth lawmaker, with independent Senator Jacqui Lambie resigning after revealing she contravened the constitution.

“I probably should have been a bit smarter and checked that citizenship stuff,” Lambie, 46, told reporters in Canberra after it was confirmed she inherited British citizenship from her Scottish-born father. “I don’t know who feels worse, me or my dad. I think we’re both gutted. We’re not sharing love for the bagpipes this morning.”

While Lambie’s departure is unlikely to affect the ability of Malcolm Turnbull’s government to pass legislation, it adds to the sense of chaos that’s engulfed parliament this year. The furor has tipped the ruling Liberal-National coalition into a minority government and may drag into 2018, given there are still questions over the origins of several other lawmakers.

Read more: Citizenship fiasco threatens economic confidence

The chaos began in July when two Greens senators resigned after discovering they held dual citizenship. The constitution rules parliamentarians ineligible if they are “a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or a citizen of a foreign power.”

Since then, the High Court has found the two Greens and three other lawmakers -- including then-Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce -- ineligible, while government Senator Stephen Parry and lower-house member John Alexander have also resigned. Most failed to realize they were citizens of other countries by birth or through their parents’ heritage, and didn’t renounce those rights before running for parliament.

Special Candidate

Joyce and Alexander will re-contest their districts in special elections next month. Until then, the government’s one-seat majority has evaporated and Turnbull is relying on the support of independent lawmakers in the lower house.

Alexander won his seat comfortably last year. Still, former New South Wales state premier Kristina Keneally, 48, announced on Tuesday she’d be the opposition Labor party’s candidate.

Keneally ran the nation’s biggest state from December 2009 until March 2011, when she took Labor to one of it’s worst-ever defeats. Born in Las Vegas to an American father and Australian-born mother, she posted a copy of documents renouncing her U.S. citizenship on Twitter. While a high-profile candidate, Keneally said she is the underdog in the campaign.

Lambie won her Senate seat in 2013 representing the party of mining magnate Clive Palmer, but cut ties with him in November 2014. The former soldier established a name for herself for her vocal backing of war-veteran rights and support for her home state of Tasmania, which has entrenched socio-economic problems as traditional industries such as logging and mining fade.

Lambie has also caused controversy for calling for tougher scrutiny and vetting of refugees in the wake of Islamic State-inspired terrorist attacks in Europe, and a ban on Muslim immigration.

The major parties on Monday agreed to require lawmakers to publicly disclose their citizenship history and whether they believe they may be dual nationals by Dec. 1. Those in doubt would be referred to the High Court, potentially creating the need for more special elections next year.

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