Australia's citizenship crisis spreads

Independent senator, whose support is key for Turnbull, under a cloud over dual nationality

CANBERRA • Australia's widening citizenship crisis yesterday entangled a seventh politician, a key independent senator whose support is critical for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to pass legislation in a hostile Senate.

Senator Nick Xenophon said he may hold dual citizenship, Australian and British, which would make him ineligible to sit in Parliament. He said he was checking if his father's birth in Cyprus makes him British as well as Australian.

"The great irony here is that my father left Cyprus in 1951 in order to get away from British occupation of Cyprus. The suggestion that I could be a British citizen is something that would absolutely horrify my father," Mr Xenophon told The Australian newspaper.

Mr Xenophon, whose eponymous party holds two key balance-of-power seats in the upper house, has stymied media law reform plans and criticised Canberra's reluctance to order a sweeping inquiry into the banking sector.

The citizenship crisis, based on a 116-year-old law which demands an elected lawmaker only have Australian citizenship, has rocked Parliament, ensnaring three government members, three Green party MPs and Mr Xenophon.

Mr Turnbull's one-seat majority in the lower house is in jeopardy after Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce on Monday said he may be ineligible for Parliament due to his New Zealand citizenship by descent. His father was born in New Zealand. Mr Joyce has since relinquished that citizenship, but is awaiting a High Court ruling, along with several other politicians who believe they may have dual citizenship.

The court will begin hearings into Mr Joyce's eligibility next Thursday. Should he be ruled ineligible, Mr Turnbull would be forced to rely on independents to pass legislation.

If the lawmakers under a citizenship cloud are ruled ineligible by the High Court, there would need to be by-elections in their constituencies. If Mr Joyce fails to win re-election in his rural seat, Mr Turnbull would face a hung Parliament.

The government is struggling in opinion polls and would not wish to be tested at the ballot box at this time. Mr Turnbull told reporters in Canberra yesterday that he expects the High Court to keep the dual-national MPs in office.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 19, 2017, with the headline 'Australia's citizenship crisis spreads'. Print Edition | Subscribe