Senate president Stephen Parry says he may hold dual citizenship

Liberal senator seeking advice from British authorities following last week’s high court ruling that five MPs were ineligible

The citizenship crisis that has convulsed the Turnbull government and forced Barnaby Joyce to a byelection may have claimed another high-profile Coalition MP.

The president of the Senate, Liberal senator Stephen Parry, informed the government on Tuesday that he may be a dual citizen through descent.

In a statement released after the Australian reported the Tasmanian senator had discovered the potential citizenship conflict, Parry said he had written to the British Home Office “seeking clarity” over his citizenship status.

“This was the first opportunity to do so since the high court ruling,” he said. “The British Home office has sought further details from me today, which I have provided, and I await a response. Depending on the outcome, I may seek further legal advice before reporting back to the Senate.

“In any event, I will report the result of the investigation and any subsequent advice to the Senate.

“In the event that I am found to hold British citizenship by virtue of my father’s status, then I will clearly be in breach of section 44 of the constitution and would therefore resign as president of the Senate. I would further resign as senator for the state of Tasmania and not await any referral to the high court, as I believe the high court has made it abundantly clear what action is required.”

Thew Greens leader, Richard Di Natale, said Australia had now entered “constitutional crisis territory”. He called on the Coalition and Labor to allow an independent audit of all MPs and senators to settle the issue once and for all.

The latest chapter in the citizenship saga has sent fresh fears through the Coalition’s executive, which was not expecting citizenship through descent to present such a problem.

The family situation of members is now being placed under the microscope, according to Liberal sources.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if there are others in this situation,” one source said. “Citizenship through descent is going to be an issue which is going to trip us up, I fear, in certain cases.”

The Queensland executive president, Gary Spence, said he was “not nervous” about any further MPs having citizenship concerns, and there were “no indications” of further issues. The branch came under pressure following the referrals of Matt Canavan and Joyce to the high court.

Speaking to the ABC, Parry’s fellow Liberal Tasmanian senator Eric Abetz urged his colleagues, of all political persuasions, to check their citizenship status.

“I would imagine that there would be quite a few and I would simply call on all of them to do the right and honourable thing and follow the principled lead of the president of the Senate, Senator Stephen Parry,” he said.

“I would expect there to be cross-party difficulties here, and that is why I would call on everybody, Labor, Liberal, National, Greens, One Nation, anybody that might find themselves in this sort of difficulty to have their antecedents checked out fully to determine whether they are or are not eligible to remain in the parliament for the sake of the integrity of the parliament.”

Parry said Friday’s high court ruling, which found five parliamentarians, including Fiona Nash and Joyce were ineligible to be elected under section 44 of the constitution because they were citizens of a foreign power, gave “absolute clarity” over the dual-citizenship-through-descent question.

His father was born in the UK and came to Australia in 1951, marrying Parry’s mother nine years later in Burnie, Tasmania.

“I have always regarded my late father as Australian, particularly as he undertook his national service and participated as a member of the Australian army reserve and voted in every Australian election since adulthood,” Parry said in his statement.

If found to be a UK citizen, Parry would become the eighth MP to be caught by the constitutional quirk, and given the high court’s definitive ruling on Friday, may be forced to immediately resign. If so, it would mean 10% of the Senate had resigned since the 2016 election due to section 44 conflicts.

Parry presided over the referral of six senators to the high court over citizenship issues in recent months – five of which were related to citizenship by descent.

Guardian Australia has called the prime minister’s office for comment.

If Parry resigns, the high court, sitting as the court of disputed returns, would probably order a recount, which would see a return of Richard Colbeck to the Senate.

Colbeck, a former minister, had been relegated to the fifth spot on the Tasmanian Senate ticket after what was widely seen as a factional battle with Eric Abetz.

But Colbeck has taken up a position on a Tasmanian state government working group which, if paid, could potentially see him vulnerable to challenge under section 44, which does not allow MPs to receive even an indirect interest from the crown.

The last name on the Senate ticket is John Tucker, who is a Tasmanian councillor, which is also vulnerable to challenge. If both Colbeck and Tucker are ruled ineligible, the recount could see that Tasmanian Senate spot go to another party.

The trade minister, Steve Ciobo, criticised Parry for not checking his citizenship status weeks ago, saying Parry should not have waited for the high court’s ruling last week.

“I’ve been asked a thousand times, with a surname like Ciobo, you can imagine how many times I’ve been asked the question by journalists,” he told Sky News on Tuesday.

“I expect there’s a lot of people who have gone back through [their records], and if they haven’t done so previously … then they’ve really got reason to focus.”

When asked why Parry had waited until now, Ciobo said: “I think you’re asking the wrong person. Perhaps you should direct that question to Senator Parry.”

When asked about the Liberal party’s vetting processes, which the Turnbull government has repeatedly said is thorough, Ciobo said the issue of citizenship by descent had caught a lot of people off guard.

“[It is] the curveball that’s thrown a lot of people. On any realistic measure there are a hell of a lot of people who would be surprised to learn that perhaps because their grandparent or something like that was a citizen of another country that that in some way means they apparently have citizenship of that country.

Ciobo dismissed the need for an audit of all MPs and senators, saying it was a “silly idea” and would be too complicated.

The Greens, which also lost two senators to section 44, maintain an audit is the only way to solve the issue plaguing the parliament.

“Surely now it’s time for the government and Labor to put the national wellbeing ahead of their own narrow political interests and back the Greens’ call for a full audit of all MPs,” Di Natale said. “We need to put an end to this crisis once and for all.”

He later told the ABC’s 7.30 program that he had no doubt other MPs were hoping the issue would go away because they knew their own status was questionable.

“My message to them is … show some leadership. Stand up. The cards will fall where they fall. The time has really come for us to put an end to this. We are entering constitutional crisis territory. This is bad for democracy.”

Labor has seized on Parry’s admission as proof the Turnbull government “is lurching from crisis to crisis”.

“It’s extraordinary that the president of the Senate – who oversaw several high court referrals – did not reflect on his own eligibility until just days ago,” said the acting opposition leader, Tanya Plibersek. “Malcolm Turnbull famously said that a failure to resolve eligibility issues showed ‘incredible sloppiness’ and ‘extraordinary negligence’.

“Mr Turnbull has shown terrible judgment throughout this sorry citizenship saga. Malcolm Turnbull must tell Australians whether he knew there were doubts over Senator Parry’s eligibility.”

Labor maintains its party processes have prevented any of its MPs from falling foul of section 44, but has so far refused to show documents proving its members are in the clear.

That has raised the ire of the attorney general, George Brandis, in the past, who has said the three previous government MPs who were caught out, which included Canavan, who was found to be eligible for election, “came forward voluntarily” and Labor should be made to show its documents.

Joyce only came forward after media inquiries into his father’s New Zealand citizenship status revealed his dual nationality.


Amy Remeikis

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Liberal Stephen Parry to resign over dual British citizenship
President of the Senate announces resignation after being told he is British by UK authorities

Amy Remeikis

01, Nov, 2017 @5:13 AM

Article image
Mitch Fifield admits he knew weeks ago Stephen Parry may hold dual citizenship
Admission comes as citizenship crisis widens tensions within Coalition and Penny Wong says ‘this smacks of a cover-up’

Gareth Hutchens and agencies

02, Nov, 2017 @9:01 AM

Article image
David Feeney says he may hold dual citizenship as more MPs’ futures in balance
Labor MP admits he may face high court as new disclosures raise questions over status of six more lower house MPs

Katharine Murphy, Paul Karp and Gareth Hutchens

05, Dec, 2017 @8:29 AM

Article image
Matt Canavan quits cabinet over Italian dual citizenship
Resources minister’s citizenship puts his political future in doubt following resignation of two Greens senators over same issue

Katharine Murphy Political editor

25, Jul, 2017 @8:24 AM

Article image
Labor's Chris Bowen plays down citizenship audit for dual nationals
Shadow treasurer says complex matter of law should be left in hands of high court

Christopher Knaus

30, Jul, 2017 @1:11 AM

Article image
Western Australian Liberal senator Ben Small resigns over dual citizenship
Small breached section 44 of the Australian constitution by also holding New Zealand citizenship, but still plans to contest the upcoming election

Christopher Knaus

15, Apr, 2022 @4:17 AM

Article image
Amid the whole dual citizenship saga, it's the gloating that should shock | Lenore Taylor
The utter lack of empathy seen among most politicians and the media, as promising careers are abruptly halted, does not bode well

Lenore Taylor

29, Jul, 2017 @12:00 AM

Article image
Tony Abbott says Coalition's citizenship dramas an 'ongoing circus'
Former PM predicts more MPs will face eligibility questions as he calls on Malcolm Turnbull to resolve the chaos

Katharine Murphy Political editor

06, Nov, 2017 @1:22 AM

Article image
Peter Dutton is using citizenship laws to campaign for Liberal leadership, Labor says
Labor to block citizenship changes, which it says are ‘inconsistent with who we are as a country’

Katharine Murphy Political editor

20, Jun, 2017 @5:40 AM

Article image
Barnaby Joyce stokes Coalition tensions by backing National as Senate president
Joyce says John ‘Wacka’ Williams would be a ‘straight shooter’ after the resignation of Stephen Parry

Katharine Murphy Amy Remeikis and Gareth Hutchens

01, Nov, 2017 @8:50 AM