How Long Can The Government Hold Off a Citizenship Audit?

The dual citizenship crises is still the most prominent issue in Australian politics this week. Many thought the High Court ruling last week resolved the matter however in reality the ruling opened up the possibility that more MPs could be found ineligible. This was because the High Court found that citizenship by descent counted as dual citizenship and ignorance of this was not a defence.

We were told on Sunday by Attorney-General George Brandis that he was confident there were no more dual citizens in the parliament and that there was no need for an audit of all MPs citizenship. However we quickly learned this was not true with President of the Senate Stephen Parry confirming on Tuesday he was checking whether he had dual citizenship due to his father being born in the United Kingdom. Once it was confirmed he did hold dual citizenship he resigned from the Senate, he was the first member of the major party to be caught up in the crisis blowing out the water the belief that their vetting processes were much more thorough than the minor parties.

The revelation from Parry caused even greater tension in the Coalition with Malcolm Turnbull and Mathias Cormann criticising Parry for not coming forward sooner. However he later revealed he had told several Liberal colleagues including Communications Minister Mitch Fifield months ago but was told to keep quiet pending the High Court ruling. Parry was extremely upset his integrity had been called into question when he was only following instructions from his colleges.

Given that another MP had been exposed after the High Court ruling it was viewed by many commentators and the public that a full audit of all MPs was needed to ensure the integrity and legitimacy of our parliament. Our politicians make laws that the rest of us are expected to obey, it is not much to ask then that our politicians obey our most basic law which is the constitution of Australia. Section 44 is crystal clear that you cannot be a dual citizen and sit in parliament, we cannot have legislation being voted on by people who aren’t eligible to cast a vote in the parliament.

So far the major parties have resisted the call for an audit. The reason is pretty simple, they know if they agree to an audit then more of their MPs will be knocked out. The consequences are even greater for the Liberal Party as if any of their lower house MPs are found to be ineligible it causes a by-election which they could lose and therefore lose their majority. The refusal of the major parties to this point to agree to an audit has been called a protection racket to save themselves from mass embarrassment.

However some Liberal backbenchers are putting pressure on the government to conduct an audit including Craig Kelly, Eric Abetz and Kevin Andrews. They join the Greens, Nick Xenophon and Derryn Hinch in calling for an audit. Malcolm Turnbull today has put forward the idea of a citizenship inquiry as opposed to audit however it is not clear whether such an inquiry could compel MPs to provide documentation relating to citizenship. Also today another MP Josh Frydenberg has been forced to deny he holds Hungarian citizenship by descent.

The reality is the longer they resist an audit the more the public loses trust in our political system, why should we respect our parliament given these self-serving actions of its members? Even an audit means the government falls and we need a new election the public would much prefer that than a parliament which is illegitimate with MPs covering up each other’s dishonesty. If there’s one thing Australians can’t stand its one rule for one group of people and another for the rest.

The revelations and questions about other MPs citizenship will only continue, the business of government cannot continue until we know if we have a legitimate government.