The date for five federal byelections – including two key marginal seat contests – have been delayed as the government readies a new process aimed at putting an end to the citizenship saga.
Despite Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten already campaigning in the marginal Queensland seat of Longman, Speaker Tony Smith said on Monday he was still not ready to announce the byelection dates.
The Australian Electoral Commission had backed the changes to the nomination process that would require candidates to prove they were not dual citizens, but the new system was not yet ready, Mr Smith said.
“The government is considering urgent changes through regulation to the process to ensure candidates are aware of their obligations under Section 44 prior to the byelection taking place,” he told Parliament.
“As this regulation is not yet in force, there is no possibility of applying if byelections were held on June 23.”
Mr Smith said he hoped to provide an update later in the week.
Following the release of a parliamentary report into the citizenship crisis on Friday, the government ruled out holding a referendum but said it was taking steps to tighten the nomination process for candidates.
The government is establishing a citizenship register for candidates, akin to the process created for all parliamentarians late last year.
The delay announced by Mr Smith on Monday drew the ire of the opposition, which claimed the government could now delay the byelections.
The latest citizenship flare up has forced the opposition to defend four seats, including Longman and Braddon, in north-west Tasmania, which Labor holds by about 2 per cent.
Responding to Mr Smith’s announcement on Monday, Manager of Opposition Business Tony Burke argued it took only two days to issue the writs for the Bennelong byelection in Sydney and six days for the poll in Melbourne’s Batman.
“I do have to raise the issue that it is now taking longer to fill five seats than it would take to fill 150,” Mr Burke told Parliament.
“We are currently in a situation where the government could delay a regulation for as long as they wanted and that would determine when a byelection was held.”
Labor MPs Justine Keay, Susan Lamb and Josh Wilson, and the Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie resigned over citizenship 13 days ago on May 9. Labor’s Tim Hammond resigned for family reasons earlier.
Mr Smith replied that it was his duty to consult with the electoral commission.
“I realise lots of people have lots of opinions on this matter. But I would be very surprised if any members of the house thought I should not consult with the electoral commissioner, or indeed, I should ignore his advice,” he said.
The Liberals are yet to name a candidate in Longman, amid reports last week its likely choice was under a citizenship cloud.
Under the constitution, candidates must have renounced any foreign citizenship before they nominate for the poll.
The speaker generally consults with the Prime Minister, opposition leader and the electoral commissioner to determine a date for an election.
The delay leaves Labor four MPs down in the lower house – a situation that will hamper cross-party efforts to legislate Liberal MP Sussan Ley’s private members bill to ban live animal exports.
The five byelections, in Perth, Fremantle, Mayo, Longman and Braddon, are now likely to be held on either of the following Saturdays – June 30 or July 7.