Aussie MPs caught up in crisis over citizenship

Ms Larissa Waters
Ms Larissa Waters
Mr Matt Canavan
Mr Matt Canavan
Ms Justine Keay
Ms Justine Keay
Mr Scott Ludlam
Mr Scott Ludlam
Mr Malcolm Roberts
Mr Malcolm Roberts
Ms Julia Banks
Ms Julia Banks

Cabinet member and two foreign-born MPs have quit, as others rush to check their status

Australian politicians have been frantically checking their family histories to find out whether they are dual citizens following an unusual saga which has cast doubt on the legitimacy of a worryingly high number of the nation's 226 MPs.

The crisis has already led to the resignations of two MPs and prompted a third to resign from Cabinet after they separately discovered that they held dual citizenship.

Australia's Constitution forbids political candidates from being foreign citizens under a section whose origins date back to colonial times.

The problem, as numerous MPs have discovered, is that it can be difficult to renounce a foreign citizenship or to even know if they are a foreign citizen in the first place.

The first MP to quit, Mr Scott Ludlam of the Greens party, announced his sudden resignation on July 14 after a curious lawyer made inquiries about the citizenship status of two New Zealand-born politicians and confirmed that Mr Ludlam still held his New Zealand citizenship.

Four days later, fellow Greens MP Larissa Waters resigned after realising she was a Canadian citizen as she was born there. She said she has not been back since leaving as an 11-month-old baby with her parents, who are Australian.

The sudden resignations prompted a rush by MPs to check on their citizenship status with family members and local consulates and embassies. The doubts extend to as many as 20 politicians, including members of all the major parties.

  • SOME MPS WITH DUAL CITIZENSHIP CONCERNS

  • Ms Larissa Waters (resigned)

    • Greens party MP

    • Canadian citizen by birth


    Mr Matt Canavan (resigned from Cabinet, awaiting High Court ruling)

    • Ruling coalition MP

    • Australian-born, Italian citizen by heritage


    Ms Justine Keay

    • Labor MP

    • Australian-born, may not have had British citizenship renounced before election


    Mr Scott Ludlam (resigned)

    • Greens party MP

    • New Zealand citizen by birth


    Mr Malcolm Roberts

    • One Nation MP

    • Born in India to Welsh father, may not have renounced British citizenship before election


    Ms Julia Banks

    • Ruling coalition MP

    • Australian-born, may have automatically gained Greek citizenship via Greek father

Australia's Constitution forbids political candidates from being foreign citizens under a section whose origins date back to colonial times. The problem, as numerous MPs have discovered, is that it can be difficult to renounce a foreign citizenship or to even know if they are a foreign citizen in the first place.

On July 25, a minister, Mr Matt Canavan, stepped down from Cabinet after learning from his mother she applied for him to become an Italian citizen through his Italian-born grandmother. "I was not born in Italy. I've never been to Italy and to my knowledge have never set foot in an Italian consulate or embassy," he told reporters. Mr Canavan did not resign from Parliament and the government asked the High Court to consider his eligibility. He said he had not consented to seeking Italian citizenship and could not have taken steps to renounce it.

An MP from the anti-migrant One Nation party, Mr Malcolm Roberts, who was born in India to a Welsh father in 1955, has faced questions over whether he applied to renounce his British citizenship before he ran in the 2016 election. His resignation could potentially lead to party leader Pauline Hanson, a notorious right-wing firebrand, being joined in Parliament by her sister Judy Smith, who was a candidate on the party list in Queensland. Ms Smith could step in because the next in line, Mr Fraser Anning, may have his own legitimacy questioned as he is facing bankruptcy proceedings.

A Liberal MP, Ms Julia Banks, has faced questions because her father was born in Greece and this may have resulted in her automatically gaining Greek citizenship, even though she was born in Australia. Labor MP Justine Keay faces questions over whether she renounced her British citizenship in time.

Australia's two Singapore-born MPs have confirmed they are not Singaporeans. Liberal MP Ian Goodenough, who moved to Australia with his family at age nine, produced documents from Singapore's High Commission showing he renounced his citizenship in 2004. Greens MP Peter Whish-Wilson, said he was never a Singapore citizen because neither of his parents was Singaporean.

The saga has led to calls to change the Constitution to make sure it does not disqualify Australians who have minimal links to a foreign country of which they are a citizen. But this can be done only via a national referendum - and Australian voters have tended to be sceptical about agreeing to constitutional changes.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 05, 2017, with the headline 'Aussie MPs caught up in crisis over citizenship'. Print Edition | Subscribe