The Turnbull government risks losing another Cabinet minister, deepening the citizenship crisis engulfing the Parliament, with Nationals deputy leader Fiona Nash revealing she is a British citizen.
Days after her leader Barnaby Joyce referred himself to the High Court over his New Zealand citizenship, Senator Nash made the shock announcement late on Thursday, at the end of a remarkable sitting fortnight in Parliament.
Like Mr Joyce, Senator Nash vowed to stay on as a minister, citing legal advice the government had received.
She said she chose to investigate her status following Mr Joyce’s revelation on Monday, and was subsequently told by the UK Home Office that she held British citizenship through her Scottish father.
“Growing up, my parents always told me that I was not a dual citizen,” Senator Nash said.
“My understanding since early childhood was that in order to be a dual British citizen, I would need to apply for it.”
Senator Nash, who was born in Sydney in 1965, said she had been raised by her mother.
She had little contact with her father, who died nine years ago.
The government received legal advice on Senator Nash’s situation on Thursday.
“I can advise honourable senators that on the basis of the Solicitor-General’s advice, the PM has indicated to me that he sees no reason for me to stand aside from my portfolio responsibilities,” she said.
Senator Nash holds the Regional Development, Regional Communications and Local Government portfolios and sits in cabinet.
Along with Mr Joyce and Senator Matt Canavan, she is the third Nationals MP to face a High Court battle over dual citizenship.
A fourth, lower house MP David Gillespie, is facing a court challenge over the pecuniary interest provision of Section 44, while Senator Barry O’Sullivan is also under pressure over an alleged pecuniary interest.
Unlike Mr Joyce, who could be forced to recontest his seat in a by-election if he is ruled to be ineligible, Senator Nash’s position would be replaced through a recount.
It also does not endanger the government’s majority because she sits in the Senate.
Senator Nash’s eligibility will be referred to the High Court on September 4.
Labor’s shadow agriculture minister Joel Fitzgibbon immediately called for Senator Nash to step down.
The revelation came on the same day the opposition had tried to gag Mr Joyce, who has refused to stand down as Deputy Prime Minister amid his citizenship court battle.
Labor’s Tony Burke flagged that when Parliament returns in two weeks, he will move to stop any legislation from being put to a vote due to questions over Mr Joyce’s eligibility.
Earlier, Australian Conservatives Senator Cory Bernardi, a former Liberal, called for Parliament to be suspended until the crisis is resolved.
“I believe there is only one way forward for this Parliament and that is for the Prime Minister to prorogue the Parliament, [and] effectively end this session pending the outcome of the High Court, pending any by-elections that may be necessary,” Senator Bernardi said.
Justice Minister Michael Keenan was forced on Thursday morning to reject claims he was a dual British citizen, saying he had renounced his British citizenship in 2004.
Mr Keenan has not yet provided documentary evidence of his renunciation.