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To the High Court we go: six MPs under clouds in decisions that could undermine the government

TJ Ryan Foundation Research Associate, Graeme Orr, writes in The Conversation (16.8.17) that the High Court's ruling over at least five federal MPs' legitimacy to hold their seats in Parliament may hang on whether they took 'reasonable steps' to renounce their non-Australian citizenships.

'Two green bottles and up to four blue ones. Falling from the parliamentary wall, unless the High Court saves them from the rules about MP qualifications. The six are now-resigned Greens senators Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters, fellow upper house members Matt Canavan (LNP) and Malcolm Roberts (One Nation), and two government members of the lower house, Barnaby Joyce and David Gillespie (both Nationals).

'At least that’s the latest count, as of Monday’s referral of Joyce to the court. I hesitate to file this piece lest the number rise again today. ... All this is a law professor’s picnic.

'Section 44, as it applies to elections, detracts from, rather than adds to, democracy. Its technicalities are a thicket, catching many a candidate. It sits oddly in a Constitution that never guaranteed a right to vote, leaving that small matter to the national parliament.

'It’s time for reform. We inherited the dual citizenship rule, an old rule about fealty to one Crown, from our English forebears.

'The founders struck it in stone in the Constitution. Yet state parliaments are fine with dual citizens being elected. So too is New Zealand. And, funnily enough, so nowadays is the UK.'

If High Court decides against ministers with dual citizenship, could their decisions in office be challenged?

Anne Twomey writes in The Conversation (18.8.17) that the MPs under a cloud because of dual citizenship need to be very careful about the decisions they make in Parliament before the matter is resolved.

'What would happen if the High Court found that ministers Barnaby Joyce, Fiona Nash and Matthew Canavan had not been validly elected at the last federal election in July 2016?

'In the case of the senators (Nash and Canavan), the High Court, sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns, would most likely order a special recount of the votes, as it did in relation to senators Bob Day and Rod Culleton, with the seat then most likely going to the next person on the Coalition ticket.

'This may disrupt the balance between the National Party and the Liberal Party in the Senate, as those most likely to replace the two National Party senators would be from the Liberal Party.

'Joyce’s seat, being in the lower house, would most likely go to a byelection, as previously occurred in the cases of Jackie Kelly and Phil Cleary. Like Kelly and Cleary, Joyce could stand for his seat at the byelection, as he has now renounced his New Zealand citizenship.

'A bigger question arises, however, as to the validity of decisions that they made as ministers since the last election. If they were not validly elected in July 2016, then Section 64 of the Constitution becomes relevant. It says: … no minister of state shall hold office for a longer period than three months unless he is or becomes a senator or a member of the House of Representatives.

'That three months ran out a long time ago. So, for a considerable time they would have been exercising powers conferred upon ministers by statute, without actually being ministers. Were those decisions valid? Could they be challenged?'

 

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