Labor has been dealt a further blow in the citizenship crisis, with Victorian MP David Feeney flagging his status is likely to go to the High Court because evidence cannot be found that he has renounced his British citizenship.
This follows confirmation on Monday by Labor senator Katy Gallagher that she was still a British citizen when she nominated for last year’s election, although she had taken steps to renounce.
If Feeney were found ineligible, Labor would be at high risk of losing his Melbourne seat of Batman to the Greens.
Last year Feeney beat Greens candidate Alex Bhathal by a whisker; the two-candidate vote was 51-49%. The Greens won the recent byelection for the state seat of Northcote, which is within Feeney’s electorate.
At the crossbench Christmas party in Parliament House, the Greens had a toast to Batman.
As the declarations of House of Representatives MPs were posted online, Feeney told parliament that while in 2007 he had signed documents to renounce any citizenship rights he might have inherited from his father – who was born in Northern Ireland – the British authorities could not locate his notice of renunciation. He had been informed they did not keep records for such a long period.
He said he still had inquiries outstanding with the UK, and had also sought past bank records to determine whether he had made a payment that was processed by the UK Home Office at the time.
While “to the best of my memory from a decade ago” he had sent the paperwork to both the UK and Ireland, and could confirm he was not an Irish citizen, “I accept that I have been unable to produce the requisite notice of renunciation with the respect to the United Kingdom”, he said.
“I remain hopeful that continuing searches of the UK records and archives will clarify this issue in my favour. Nevertheless, I accept that at this moment my status as a citizen in UK law remains unclear. On that basis, if I have still been unable to locate the relevant documents by the time this issue is dealt with by the House of Representatives, I will be asking the manager of opposition business to refer this matter to the High Court,” he said.
Feeney caused Labor embarrassment before the last election when it was revealed he failed to declare a house he owned worth more than A$2 million.
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann accused Opposition Leader Bill Shorten of concealing Feeney’s position.
“You’ve got to assume that Bill Shorten has known for some time that David Feeney had this problem and really it just completely exposes his dishonesty and his hypocrisy when it comes to this issue,” Cormann said on Sky.
Feeney recently deleted a tweet in which he had said: “Noticed how the Turnbull govt has strangely stopped mocking the Greens Party for incompetence and sloppiness?”
The citizenship declarations confirm that Labor MPs Josh Wilson and Justine Keay had not had their renunciations of British citizenship registered by the time of nomination. Another Labor MP, Susan Lamb, had tried to renounce, but the UK said it was not satisfied she held British citizenship.
The Nick Xenophon Team’s Rebekha Sharkie did not receive her confirmation of renunciation in time.
The government and Labor are now in talks about referrals to the High Court. Referrals will be made before parliament rises later this week.
Labor, thrown on the back foot in the ongoing crisis, lashed out at the government with Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus claiming Malcolm Turnbull was “covering up” for as many as seven government MPs who could have constitutional problems. These MPs had not provided the needed evidence to prove they weren’t dual citizens, he said.
Dreyfus’ list included:
Jason Falinski, who said he made inquiries from the Polish consulate and had legal advice but had not provided it.
Josh Frydenberg, who said he had received Hungarian, Polish and Australian legal advice but hadn’t produced it.
Nola Marino, who said she had legal advice to show she was not Italian but did not provide it.
Julia Banks, Alex Hawke, Michael McCormack and Arthur Sinodinos, who all had “an unconvincing letter” from the Greek embassy and “refuse to provide legal advice”.
“The Liberal and National MPs who have not been forthcoming with all available evidence must either seek to update their incomplete disclosures as soon as possible, or refer their eligibility to the High Court,” Dreyfus said.
Falinski rejected the demand to produce legal advice saying to do so would “pierce legal and professional privilege” and others hadn’t done so. He accused Dreyfus of playing “base politics to obscure the truth”.
On Wednesday morning Gallagher announced to the Senate that she had asked for her eligibility to be referred to the High Court. She said she was standing aside from her portfolio responsibilities within the shadow cabinet and her role as manager of opposition business in the Senate until her case was resolved. She insisted she was eligible to sit in the Senate but said it was clear the government had decided she should be referred and her political opponents would continue to use the issue.