News National Byelections loom as senator and four MPs fall over citizenship

Byelections loom as senator and four MPs fall over citizenship

katy gallagher
Ms Gallagher claimed she took all reasonable steps to renounce her British citizenship before the election. Photo: AAP
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Three Labor MPs and a crossbencher have resigned their seats after the High Court ruled Labor senator Katy Gallagher is ineligible to sit in Parliament over dual citizenship

The Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie fronted the media at 12.45pm (AEDT) and indicated she would resign her seat.

She was followed by Labor’s Susan Lamb, Justine Keay and Josh Wilson, who announced their decisions in the house of representatives.

Ms Gallagher had argued to the court that she took “all reasonable steps” to renounce her British citizenship before the election, but was still a British citizen when the writs were issued.

The High Court’s ruling that Ms Gallagher was ineligible to stand for the 2016 election put a cloud over the other four parliamentarians.

The decision on Wednesday appeared to leave no room for those MPs to argue they were eligible under Section 44, with the court saying the case turned “upon “one issue” – whether Ms Gallagher was “irremediably prevented by foreign law” from renouncing her dual citizenship.

“An affirmative answer cannot be given merely because a decision might not be provided in time for a person’s nomination,” the court said.

Attorney-General Christian Porter immediately called for all four “in-doubt” MPs to resign and face byelections.

“Those four people must resign, they must resign today,” Mr Porter said.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Labor would now “consider what further implications today’s decision by the High Court may have”.

“Today, the High Court has set a new precedent,” he said.

Ms Gallagher said she was “very disappointed” but respected the decision of the court.

“To the people of the ACT I’m very sorry that this disruption has occurred to one of your federal representatives,” she said.

The former ACT chief minister said she believed she had more contribute to public life and would consult with Labor members about her future.

Ms Gallagher is likely to be replaced by Labor candidate David Smith, who is ACT director of Professionals Australia.

The ruling mans Labor will face four byelections, three resulting from dual citizenship in addition to a contest in Perth sparked by Tim Hammond’s decision to resign.

The Opposition would be most nervous about Ms Lamb’s seat of Longman, which she held by less than 1 per cent.

Ms Lamb, who remains British, argued in Parliament last year that she could not retrieve the documentation required to renounce her citizenship because she was estranged from her mother.

Justine Keay held her Tasmanian seat of Braddon by 2.2 per cent.

Ms Sharkie would also face a tough challenge in the seat of Mayo, which was a Liberal seat since 1984 before she won it under the Nick Xenophon Team banner in 2016.

Before resigning Ms Sharkie said she would take legal advice but believed her case was “materially different to Senator Gallagher’s”.

There is also speculation Ms Gallagher could re-enter parliament through a new lower seat in the ACT.

“She is an enormously talented asset for the Labor party and we will do everything we possibly can to see that she has the long career ahead of her that she deserves,” Labor’s deputy leader Tanya Plibersek told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday.

The High Court last month heard that Ms Gallagher left it too late to renounce her British citizenship before nominating before the 2016 election.

Ms Gallagher submitted her renunciation application on April 20 and was charged a fee for it on May 6, 10 days before federal election writs were issued.

Her lawyers argued that what she provided was “sufficient there and then” to meet renunciation requirements, but the British Home Office requested further details on July 20, almost three weeks after the election.

Solicitor-General Stephen Donaghue told the High Courth last month that publicly available estimates of renunciation processing times ranged between 55 and 60 days – and in some cases, up to six months – but Ms Gallagher left just 41 days for hers.

“On those facts alone, your honours could conclude she did not take all reasonable steps,” he said.

Senator Gallagher was preselected 12 months before the election and 11 months before she nominated.