The president of the Senate, Liberal Stephen Parry, has announced he will resign from parliament after being told by UK authorities that he holds British citizenship.
Parry announced on Tuesday that he believed his father’s British birth may have put him in the same position as Coalition colleagues Fiona Nash and Barnaby Joyce, who were ousted from the parliament over their dual citizenship.
On Wednesday afternoon Parry said it was with a “heavy heart” he has been informed he is a dual citizen through descent and used his statement to thank colleagues and constituents for the past six-and-a-half years he sat in the Senate.
He will formally resign on Thursday.
With Parry’s resignation – which he garnished with a quote from Abraham Lincoln, writing, “I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me” – 10% of the Senate has been made to resign for section 44 concerns since the July election.
Parry’s vacancy is likely to be filled by the former tourism minister Richard Colbeck, who lost his Senate seat in a factional war with Eric Abetz before the last election, which ended with Colbeck relegated to fifth on the Tasmanian Senate ticket. There are some questions over whether Colbeck’s subsequent work, including sitting on a Tasmanian government working group, could be considered vulnerable to challenge under the part of section 44 that prohibits indirect profit from an office of the crown. However, earlier this week, Liberals appeared confident Colbeck would be able to take up the position.
Parry’s decisions as president of the Senate are not believed to be under examination. While the president does have some executive functions, similar to the Speaker position in the lower house, the decisions are made by the Senate chamber itself.
The governor general can accept resignations from senators, if the president is not available, under the constitution.
But while Parry’s position may not cause the government the same issues it potentially faces from decisions the former ministers Nash and Joyce made, there is anger and bemusement the Tasmanian representative oversaw six referrals to the high court for citizenship conflicts and did not consider his own until after Friday’s high court ruling.
The soon-to-be-vacant presidency is already the subject of debate within the Coalition, with the lucrative position, which adds a further 75% of a senator’s $199,040 base salary, seeing interest from the Nationals’ John “Wacca” Williams and the Liberals’ Ian Macdonald.
Traditionally, the position has belonged to a Liberal MP when the Coalition has been in government.
Labor has compared the Turnbull government to a “soap opera” as it seeks to capitalise on the latest citizenship crisis.
Labor, though continuing to hose down calls for an audit, seems content to let the “death by a thousand cuts” saga play out and has latched on to Parry’s belated check as proof of a government in “chaos”.
“We’ve got members of parliament dropping like flies, we’ve got the leader of the Nationals one minute saying that he’s absolutely confident that he’s eligible to be in the House of Representatives, and the next minute telling us he always had a gut feeling that he wasn’t eligible,” the acting opposition leader, Tanya Plibersek, said.
“We’ve got internal fighting over who’s going to replace Fiona Nash, with the Liberals and the Nationals at each other’s throats.
“We’ve got Barnaby Joyce saying that the Liberals should be grateful to the Nationals for the fact they’re in government at all.
“We’ve got Larry Anthony saying that the Coalition agreement holds but only for now. We’ve got Julie Bishop doing her best to elbow the prime minister out of the way while he’s out of the country.
“Now, in the last 24 hours, the revelation that despite the fact the government has assured Australians that everything’s just fine, there’s been another senator whose eligibility is under doubt. This isn’t a government, it’s a soap opera.”
Government MPs have been sent out to do their best to hose down Labor’s calls of chaos, with Bridget McKenzie telling Sky the government has been calmly dealing with the challenges section 44 has presented, while acting prime minister Julie Bishop said there was no need for panic or hubris.
“The business of parliament will continue, of course we would rather not be in this position but we will deal with it.”
But, behind the scenes, the government is examining what impact Joyce and Nash’s decisions may have had. Penny Wong has written to Bishop to ask about “the loss of potentially invalid decisions the attorney general is now considering”.
The Greens have continued to push for a full citizenship audit of all MPs, which has been embraced by some Coalition members, including Craig Kelly and Eric Abetz, but is unlikely to win enough support to succeed.
Speaking to Sky following Parry’s announcement, Kelly expanded his call for an audit to include candidates at the last election, using the rationale that preferences from the Greens helped elect Labor MPs.
“The high court has ruled on this, you are disqualified from the last election, therefore we should actually have a look at the last election, especially in seats where the sitting member of parliament is only there because they got the preferences from a Greens candidate,” he said.
“We have several of the Greens knocked out in the Senate, how many of those Greens candidates whose preferences got Labor members over the line actually weren’t qualified to be on the ballot paper?”
Labor maintains its party vetting processes have been stringent enough to catch any potential issues before a candidate nominates or, in harder cases, like Sam Dastyari, that enough “reasonable steps” to renounce potential conflicts have been taken to meet the high court’s test.
Examinations of Coalition MPs’ family backgrounds are understood to be continuing, following Friday’s high court ruling that citizenship by descent is in conflict with section 44.
“Fingers are crossed there are no more but it’ll be through luck more than anything else,” a Coalition source said.