POLITICS

A Proper Audit Would Sort Out Citizenship Doubts Once And For All

Let's fix this mess.

29/08/2017 4:11 PM AEST | Updated 29/08/2017 4:12 PM AEST
Fairfax
Katy Gallagher is now in the spotlight. Barnaby Joyce has been there for weeks.

CANBERRA -- Another day, another citizenship controversy swirling around an Australian parliamentarian. This time, it is a Labor Senator having to explain the circumstances of her birth and whether she has a right to be in the Australian Parliament.

Why does public confidence in the 45th Parliament have to be eroded like this? Why can we not have a full, independent audit of the citizenship status of Australian parliamentarians?

The major parties have so far rejected an audit to sort this mess out. But it is now an issue of trust.

The latest politician in question is ACT Labor Senator and former Chief Minister Katy Gallagher. The country is new (Ecuador) but the story line is not. The denials are thick and fast, but without paperwork. News Corp revealed on Tuesday her mother Elizabeth was a British citizen born in the South American country in 1943 and declared her in constitutional trouble.

We are told Labor knew about this all along. The ALP claims to have addressed the British and Ecuadorian question marks during vetting for Gallagher's nomination for the senate.

And on legal advice Gallagher insists she is in the clear, saying she renounced British citizenship but not Ecuadorian citizenship because she is "not and have never been an Ecuadorian citizen".

"The circumstances of my mother's birth and citizenship were investigated," Gallagher said in a statement. "As a result of these investigations it was determined that I had not obtained Ecuadorian citizenship by descent from my mother."

That should be enough. But is it? Not for Labor's opponents.

Doubts are raised around a constitutional change in 2008 which addressed citizenship issues. Prior to 2008, women born in Ecuador did not automatically gain Ecuadorian citizenship. Such citizenship would have required active pursuit. But we are told Gallagher's mother left Ecuador as a child and never applied for Ecuadorian citizenship.

After 2008, Ecuadorian citizenship became automatic. And that was for anyone born in Ecuador "up to the third degree of consanguinity". That's children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Labor has legal advice that the 2008 constitution is not retrospective.

"The 2008 Constitution was not in effect when my mother was born in 1943," Gallagher said.

If this was caught during the vetting process, that should have been enough. But there are doubts regardless and Labor's opponents are happy to point to them.

As Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate, Gallagher has had a few things to say about the Government's approach to the citizenship fiasco. She branded the actions of National Deputy Leader Fiona Nash "simply not good enough".

Labor claims its vetting process for candidates is most stringent. But without paperwork -- which the ALP so far won't provide -- we simply don't know for sure.

Is that good enough?

Government types insist there are similarities between Gallagher's case and that of Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, a New Zealand citizen by descent. But each case involves different countries, different laws and different timing.

Don't we know it, nobody's birth story is the exactly same.

There are two things that can remove all doubt. A full, independent audit or referring an individual case to the High Court for determination -- just as Joyce, Matt Canavan, Scott Ludlam, Larissa Waters and Malcolm Roberts have done.

The High Court held the first hearings on the five cases last week, with the Chief Justice setting down three days for the cases to be heard from October 10. And the Nash and Nick Xenophon cases will follow just as a soon as the Senate officially refers them to the High Court during its next sitting.

Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar has told Sky News that Labor needs to "stop running this protection racket and come clean" on citizenship. But, overblown rhetoric aside, he also said that he has to take Gallagher's case on "face value".

And that's what we're left with. Face value.

Let's fix this mess and see it for it really is, once and for all.

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