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Sunday 18 August 2019

Australia loses ninth legislator in citizenship crisis

Malcolm Turnbull's conservative coalition could lose two House of Representatives seats in by-elections next month
Malcolm Turnbull's conservative coalition could lose two House of Representatives seats in by-elections next month

An Australian senator who is British by descent has became the ninth politician to leave Parliament over a 116-year-old constitutional ban on dual nationals running for office that threatens to bring down the government.

Skye Kakoschke-Moore, a member of the Nick Xenophon Team minor party, said she discovered she was British while gathering evidence ahead of a December 1 deadline for Australia-born senators to provide documented proof that they had not inherited the citizenship of an immigrant parent or grandparent.

"I'm heartbroken by this news," an emotional Ms Kakoschke-Moore told reporters. The British Home Office advice "was extremely surprising to me," she said.

Ms Kakoschke-Moore said she was surprised because when she lived in Oman as a child in the late 1990s, the British Embassy there told her father that she was not entitled to British citizenship through her mother, who was born in 1957 to British parents in the then-British colony of Singapore.

Ms Kakoschke-Moore will resign when the Senate resumes next week and her case will be referred to the High Court to decide how her Senate seat will be filled.

Nick Xenophon, the party leader who in October survived a court challenge to his eligibility to remain in Parliament due to a form of British citizenship, predicted "many others ... will be caught up" by the dual citizen ban when senators' proof of sole Australian citizenship is made public on December 4.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's conservative coalition could lose two House of Representatives seats in by-elections next month after one government politician was disqualified from the lower chamber and another resigned over inherited citizenship.

Australia is rare if not unique in the world in banning dual nationals from sitting in Parliament. Pressure is growing to reform the constitution amid the growing uncertainty over how many by-elections might result from the current crisis and which party might end up forming a government.

The House of Representatives is expected to also set a deadline for its politicians to prove they are solely Australian when it next sits in two weeks.

Any politicians who remain under a cloud after declaring their citizenship status would be referred to the High Court to decide whether they were legally elected. A series of by-elections that could change the government could be scheduled for a single weekend early next year.

The High Court last month disqualified deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce because he had inherited the citizenship of his New Zealand-born father. He immediately renounced his New Zealand citizenship and will contest his seat December 2.

Government politician John Alexander later resigned after discovering he was British but will stand for re-election on December 16, having renounced the second nationality that he inherited from his father.

The dual citizenship ban was a rare issue until recently, but the High Court last month disqualified five politicians, including Mr Joyce, in a rejection of the government's argument that ignorance of an inherited nationality was an acceptable excuse.

Senators are usually replaced from the same party without elections, but most crucial are the fates of politicians in the House of Representatives, where parties need a majority to form a government.

Before losing two seats, the government held a single-seat majority of 76 in the 150-seat chamber.

Many argue that the dual citizen ban is increasingly inappropriate for a migrant nation where half the population was born overseas or has an immigrant parent. But changing the constitution requires all registered voters to cast ballots in a referendum, which rarely succeed.


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