My God, will this ever end? According to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald today, a third Turnbull government minister may be a dual citizen – thus rendering them unable to sit in Parliament under section 44 of the Constitution.
According to experts, Justice Minister Michael Keenan is likely to be a “citizen by descent” of the United Kingdom thanks to the citizenship of his father, unless he has renounced said citizenship through a formal process.
Keenan immediately took to Twitter early this morning to angrily deny the claims:
In their report, Fairfax Media said that Keenan had refused to explicitly confirm he had undertaken the proper efforts to renounce British citizenship, instead just asserting that he was an “Australian citizen and does not hold citizenship of any other country”.
If Fairfax’s report is correct, then Keenan would be the third Coalition minister in the midst of a citizenship snafu – after Matthew Canavan and, more recently, Barnaby Joyce.
UK citizenship is particularly convoluted, given the array of statutes which dictate who is entitled to British citizenship. Fairfax’s experts reckon that under the British Nationality Act of 1948, Keenan would have been made a true Pom at birth.
In his maiden speech to Parliament, Keenan referenced his British heritage:
My father and his family arrived in country New South Wales from Britain and opened a small clothing store. My mother is the daughter of a tram mechanic and she left school at 15. Together they built a family and a small business and were able to afford their children opportunities they could never have imagined.
Obviously the question is now whether he is correct that he renounced his British citizenship back in 2004. If he did, it’s odd that he wouldn’t confirm that to Fairfax. But if he did, then this is a non-starter – and the Coalition can go back to worrying about the other two citizenship problems they’ve got on the boiler.
It’s certainly a testament to the extreme stability of the Australian political system – for better or worse – that a bunch of ministers and parliamentarians are thrust into a crisis of eligibility by a law that the majority of people barely understand, and no one’s really that concerned about it, on balance.
Er, except Malcolm Turnbull. He would probably be pretty bloody concerned at this point.