Labor has accused the government of trying to “skate through” the citizenship crisis until after Christmas, as bizarre details emerge of John Alexander’s attempts to verify his citizenship at a local chicken shop.
Mr Turnbull defended his citizenship disclosure plan on Tuesday amid uncertainty over the future of Mr Alexander, a backbencher and former tennis star, who may have inherited British citizenship from his father.
In an unusual development, the ABC’s 7.30 program reported on Tuesday night that Mr Alexander had entered a chicken shop near his electorate office a few days ago to ask a local Justice of the Peace to witness him signing some documents.
“He briefly said to me it’s about the citizenship fiasco and all this,” George Dib told the program.
“He also said to me, look, as far as he’s concerned, his father came here as an infant. Really, Mr Alexander, to me, he’s a true blue Aussie.”
Mr Alexander said only on Tuesday that he was “making further enquiries” and would make a full statement when he had received “verification of my status”.
Labor’s leader in the Senate, Penny Wong, escalated the fight over dual citizenship earlier in the day by demanding that Mr Alexander’s case be referred to the High Court.
“Mr Turnbull’s announcement yesterday can’t cover this up. It doesn’t deal with it,” Senator Wong said.
“John Alexander needs to be referred to the High Court.”
Warning of a “protection racket”, Senator Wong also took issue with the Prime Minister’s 21-day timeframe for politicians to declare their status to the Parliament, saying he was “trying to skate through until after Christmas”.
Mr Turnbull and Mr Shorten will meet on Wednesday to nut out the details of a disclosure motion to compel politicians to provide details of their citizenship status. It would need to pass Parliament, which returns in three weeks.
“I think the system of voluntary disclosure with obviously very heavy penalties, political penalties and personal reputational penalties if people conceal things or don’t disclose things honestly; I think that works and I think it will work well here,” Mr Turnbull told ABC Radio on Tuesday.
Battle for Bennelong?
Mr Alexander’s situation appears similar to Barnaby Joyce and Fiona Nash, who were disqualified by the High Court, and Stephen Parry, who resigned in the knowledge he would also be ruled ineligible.
Unlike Mr Joyce’s seat of New England, which he is expected to reclaim at the byelection on December 2, a forced poll in the seat of Bennelong could place Mr Turnbull’s majority in peril.
With Mr Joyce currently fighting the byelection, the government is already down to 74 seats on the floor of Parliament, with Labor and the crossbench also at 74. Independent Cathy McGowan has promised to provide the government confidence and supply.
Mr Alexander, a popular local member with a national profile as a former Australian tennis player, currently holds the seat on Sydney’s North Shore with a margin of 9.7 per cent.
The seat was last held by Labor in 2010 by former TV journalist Maxine McKew, who defeated long-time Bennelong MP John Howard when the former PM was dumped from office at the 2007 election.
Mr Alexander won the seat with a margin of 3.1 per cent amid the backlash against Labor in 2010, but he has he earned a swing towards him at successive elections.
The high-profile Ms McKew, who is now based in Melbourne, ruled out running in any possible byelection, but said voters deserved “clarity on the matter”.
“As an ethnically diverse electorate I’m pretty sure there is a high level of tolerance for dual nationality but the Constitution is clear on this point with regard to federal members of parliament,” she told The New Daily.
Bennelong is one of the most diverse electorates in the country, with 47 per cent of people in the electorate speaking English at home, according to census figures.