Dual-Nationality Fiasco Claims More Australian LawmakersBy
Opposition Senator Katy Gallagher referred to High Court
Ongoing citizenship saga adds to sense of chaos in parliament
The citizenship fiasco that’s gripped Australia’s parliament for the past five months and cost Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s government its majority is widening, with two lawmakers from the main opposition Labor party asking the High Court to decide whether they breached the constitution.
Katy Gallagher, 47, told the upper house on Wednesday that while she believed she had taken all reasonable steps to renounce her British citizenship before last year’s election, it was important Australians had confidence in its parliament. The senator for the Australian Capital Territory, the first Labor member to be ensnared in the fiasco, was followed later in the day by lower-house member David Feeney.
More lawmakers may be referred to the High Court this week after a public register published Tuesday showed others may also have breached Section 44 of the constitution, which bars dual nationals from being members of parliament. The rule has now caught out 13 politicians unaware their parents’ heritage sometimes automatically bestows them with citizenship of other nations, and has added to the sense of chaos that’s engulfed parliament this year.
Turnbull’s government tipped into a minority after Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and lower-house colleague John Alexander were proven to be dual citizens. While Joyce, who subsequently reneged his New Zealand nationality, won a special election at the weekend to return to parliament, Alexander faces a tougher fight on Dec. 16 to win back his seat and return the government to a majority.
At least three lower-house Labor lawmakers and one independent may also be in breach of Section 44, according to the register published online. A bid by Labor to refer as many as nine lawmakers -- including four from the coalition -- narrowly failed to pass on Wednesday.
The saga is set to drag on for weeks, with the court not due to sit until February. Any senators found ineligible are replaced without the need for special elections, usually by a member of their party. But lower-house seats must be re-contested at special elections, which may not take place until April.