News National Australia’s citizenship crisis could last for months, George Brandis concedes

Australia’s citizenship crisis could last for months, George Brandis concedes

George Brandis has said section 44 needs to be dealt with. Photo: AAP
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The constitutional crisis engulfing the Turnbull government could last until at least October, a senior minister has conceded, as the latest Newspoll confirmed the scandal is taking an enormous toll.

Attorney-General George Brandis said on Sunday he believed the cases of embattled parliamentarians, including Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, would only be considered by the High Court in the first fortnight of October.

“The court has a sittings in September and it has a sittings in the first fortnight of October,” Senator Brandis told Sky News.

“I spoke to the Solicitor-General about this on Friday. We hope to get the matter before the court as soon as possible. I think realistically that may be in the first fortnight of October.”

The latest Newspoll results showed a one-point drop in the Coalition’s support, which could suggest that the longer the constitutional crisis persists, the worse the electoral damage will be for the government.

Conducted after a horror week for the government, the poll showed Labor has increased its lead in two-party terms to 54 per cent, up one percentage point since the last poll a fortnight ago – before it was revealed that Mr Joyce was a dual citizen.

The opposition’s primary vote has hit 38 per cent, compared to 35 for the government, although Malcolm Turnbull still leads Bill Shorten 44 to 33 per cent as preferred PM.

A directions hearing for the cases of Mr Joyce, Nationals Senator Matt Canavan and One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts is scheduled for Thursday, which will see the court determine a timeline for the hearings.

The court will also have to consider the cases of Nationals deputy leader Fiona Nash and Senator Nick Xenophon, who will refer themselves to the High Court when Parliament resumes on September 4. Unlike Mr Joyce’s situation, those cases do not threaten the government’s majority.

Murdoch University constitutional law expert Lorraine Finlay said the court would try to “expedite” the cases. But she told The New Daily that given the complexity of the cases, she agreed with Senator Brandis’ October timeline.

There are now five parliamentarians facing High Court battles to prove their eligibility under Section 44(i) of the Constitution, which prohibits politicians from holding dual citizenship – plus the two Greens, Larissa Waters and Scott Ludlam, who have already resigned from the Senate over the same issue.

Last week, the Coalition faced an onslaught of parliamentary pressure as Labor sought to gag Mr Joyce and questioned the government’s legitimacy.

When Parliament returns on September 4, the opposition will push for all votes on legislation to be suspended in the House of Representatives.

Barnaby Joyce has been forced to defend his eligibility in the High Court. Photo: AAP

But that bid is poised to fail, with crossbench MP Andrew Wilkie saying he would not support the Labor push.

“Members and senators are members and senators unless they resign or the High Court finds them ineligible. So Parliament and voting should continue,” Mr Wilkie told The New Daily on Sunday.

Regardless, the government was likely to bat back the Labor push because it retains its parliamentary majority with Mr Joyce remaining in Parliament.

NXT lower house MP Rebekha Sharkie also clarified comments in which she appeared to suggest she would no longer guarantee confidence and supply.

A media statement confirmed the party expected to support the government on matters of confidence and supply.

A push to prorogue – or suspend – Parliament as proposed by former Liberal and now Australian Conservatives Senator Cory Bernardi, a former Liberal, has also been rejected by his fellow crossbenchers.

Despite the citizenship crisis, a spokeswoman for Senator Jacqui Lambie said on Sunday the independent believed Parliament should continue as per usual.

“She believes we should get on with the business of the Parliament,” the spokeswoman told The New Daily. 

Nationals frontbencher Darren Chester conceded on Sunday that the party needed to improve its vetting processes, saying it had been a “rotten few weeks” for the junior Coalition partner.

Aside from Mr Joyce and senators Nash and Canavan, lower house Nationals MP David Gillespie is also facing a High Court challenge over an alleged conflict of interest, while Senator Barry O’Sullivan is facing questions under the same law.

The High Court will also on Thursday consider how Ms Waters and Mr Ludlam will be replaced.

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