FORMER Assistant Agriculture Minister and Assistant Trade Minister Richard Colbeck may be on the verge of making a shock comeback to federal politics.
Mr Colbeck was dumped to a virtually unwinnable fifth position on the Tasmanian Liberal Senate ticket for last year’s double dissolution federal election following a pre-selection challenge to fellow Liberal Eric Abetz and failed to win back his seat.
But revelations today of Tasmanian Liberal Senator and Upper House President Stephen Parry’s potential disqualification from federal parliament, due to dual British citizenship - where he will resign rather than go to the High Court to adjudicate - could now see Senator Colbeck returned as his replacement in just a few weeks’ time.
“I wasn’t ready to leave politics, so I’d be happy to return,” Mr Colbeck said.
Senator Parry’s revelation comes after five members of parliament were disqualified last week for breaching Section 44 of the constitution after a High Court ruling that also exonerated Senators Nick Xenophon and Matt Canavan.
He is the first Liberal to be caught-up in the ongoing citizenship saga that has captured two Greens, three Nationals - including leader Barnaby Joyce and former deputy-leader and cabinet minister Fiona Nash - and One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts and Senator Xenophon.
Section 44 of the constitution has also been exercised in rulings by the High Court since last year’s election with the disqualification of former farmer and WA One Nation turned independent Senator Rod Culleton and Family First SA Senator Bob Day.
In a statement, Senator Parry said after the unanimous ruling handed down by the High Court of Australia on Friday last week, there was now “absolute clarity” about the application of Section 44 of the Australian Constitution.
“As a result of this I have had cause to examine my citizenship status in relation to my late father having being born in the United Kingdom,” he said.
“My father moved to Australia as a boy in 1951 - he married my mother in 1960 and I was born that same year in Burnie.
“I have always regarded my late father as Australian, particularly as he undertook his national service and participated as a member of the Australian Army Reserve and voted in every Australian election since adulthood.”
Senator Parry said yesterday he wrote to the British Home Office seeking clarity as to the status of his citizenship with the United Kingdom.
“This was the first opportunity to do so since the High Court ruling,” he said.
“The British Home office has sought further details from me today, which I have provided, and I await a response.
“Depending upon the outcome, I may seek further legal advice before reporting back to the Senate.
“In any event I will report the result of the investigation and any subsequent advice to the Senate.
“In the event that I am found to hold British citizenship by virtue of my father’s status, then I will clearly be in breach of Section 44(1) of the Constitution and would therefore resign as President of the Senate.
“I would further resign as a Senator for the State of Tasmania and not await the outcome of any referral to the High Court, as I believe the High Court has made it abundantly clear what action is required.”
Mr Colbeck said he regarded Senator Parry as a friend and a “bloody good Senate president who has done great job and is highly regarded for it”.
Since last year’s election – where he was not returned after first being elected in 2002 – he has been involved in a range of private consulting jobs; including for the Tasmanian seafood industry and some agricultural, trade and e-commerce business roles.
Following Malcolm Turnbull’s elevation to Prime Minister, he was made the Minister assisting the Trade and Investment Minister and Minister for Tourism and International Education.
If Senator Parry was to resign, Senator Colbeck would likely be ruled as his replacement given he was next in line, on the Tasmanian Liberal Senate ticket.
“We’ll see what the British Home Office says,” Senator Colbeck said.
“I do feel for Stephen (Parry) and out of respect for him, I’m not going to say too much.”
Mr Colbeck also rejected suggestions, made in media reports after news of Senator Parry’s dual citizenship issue broke, that he held a commonwealth role of benefit, which could make him ineligible to take his place in the Senate, if that occurred.
While it’s not sure whether Mr Colbeck would be regarded as a priority by Mr Turnbull to return to the ministry in the event of a cabinet reshuffle, likely after Mr Joyce’s New England by-election – but he could take a leading role on the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee if he returned as a Senator.
Attorney General George Brandis said in view of the High Court's decision last Friday Senator Parry decided to seek advice from the Home Office but “that advice has not yet been received and it is premature to express any conclusions about Senator Parry's status until final and definitive advice is received”.
“But Senator Parry has indicated that if it appears that, indeed, he holds United Kingdom citizenship, he would resign from the Senate,” he said.
“For the time being, until the facts are clearly established, there is really not anything more that can usefully be said about the matter.
“It is important to note that Senator Parry came forward voluntarily, as indeed, had those government senators, and Mr Joyce himself, who also found themselves in section 44 difficulties.”
Senator Brandis said in the event Senator Parry concludes that he is disqualified because he receives advice that he is a British citizen, then there would be, as was the case in relation to the other Senators affected, a count back, which would see the election of the next person on the Liberal Party Senate ticket in Tasmania declared elected in his place.
“But that's, you know, we're getting a bit ahead of ourselves now because we don't yet know for sure that Senator Parry does have this problem,” he said.