PRIME Minister Malcolm Turnbull has deflected criticism of his government, amid the latest citizenship scandal to strike the Nationals with deputy-leader Fiona Nash’s shock revelation last night of her ties to British citizenship.
Mr Turnbull was questioned about the newest senior Nationals’ member and cabinet minister, joining leader and Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Barnaby Joyce and Queensland Senator Matthew Canavan, in having their cases referred to the High Court to resolve their eligibility, to sit in federal parliament, under section 44 of the constitution.
But Mr Turnbull said the government’s legal advice on the matters was “very, very strong”.
“I'm very confident that the court will find that - Fiona Nash, Barnaby Joyce and Matt Canavan are not disqualified from sitting in the parliament,” he said.
“You see, Section 44 was designed – as the court has said – to prevent politicians having conflicts of loyalties.
“You know, split allegiances was the quote from one of the judges.
“And plainly, in circumstances where somebody is born in Australia and is a citizen of Australia by reason of that birth, but then by the law of another country is deemed by that foreign law to be a citizen of that country, and they have not acknowledged it or accepted it or even been aware of it, how can they have a conflicted loyalty?
“That is why consistent with the decisions of the court in the past, and the observations of the justices of the past, the Solicitor-General has advised the government that ministers – who have had this issue will be found to be eligible to sit in the parliament.
“That’s the explanation.”
After Barnaby Joyce revealed his NZ citizenship issue at the start of parliament sitting this week in the House of Representatives, Senator Nash ended the week revealing her issues, linked to her Scottish born father in a statement before the Upper House was adjourned last night.
Senator Nash is also Local Government and Territories and Regional Communications Minister.
In her statement last night, she said following the Deputy Prime Minister's statement regarding his citizenship, on Monday she sought advice of the UK Home Office on her citizenship status.
By Monday evening, I was advised that a caseworker at the UK Home Office was of the view that, on the basis of the limited facts that I had provided, I was a British citizen by descent through my Scottish-born father, she said.
“I was not provided with any further information to support that view at that time,” she said.
Senator Nash said her mother was born in Australia and was an Australian citizen and her father was born in Scotland in 1927, while she was born in Sydney in 1965.
“My parents divorced when I was eight and my mother raised me - I had very little contact with my father throughout his life and he died nine years ago,” she said.
“My mother died five years ago.
“Growing up, my parents always told me that I was not a dual citizen.
“My understanding since early childhood was that in order to be a dual British citizen I would need to apply for it.
“Indeed, an internet search reveals a host of websites which say having a Scottish-born father allows one to apply for citizenship but mention nothing of automatic citizenship by descent.
“I advised the government and the government sought legal advice from the United Kingdom, which I understand was received today and was considered by the government's committee of cabinet within the last hour.
“The government also sought advice from the Australian Solicitor-General.
“I have just met with the Prime Minister and am taking this opportunity to make the Senate aware at the earliest possible opportunity of the position.
“I understand that the Attorney-General will provide further information to the chamber, but I can advise honourable senators that, on the basis of the Solicitor-General's advice, the PM has indicated to me that he sees no reason for me to stand aside from my portfolio responsibilities.
“I will also continue as Deputy Leader of the National Party.
“When the Senate meets on 4 September, the government will move a motion to refer the matter to the High Court, sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns, in accordance with section 376 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act.”
He shocked the political world latte month after revealing his dual Italian citizenship and subsequently resigning from the ministry while the matter is resolved.