The 2017 Australian parliamentary eligibility crisis came about after the eligibility of a number of Australian members of Parliament to be elected and to sit in the Parliament of Australia was called into question because of their actual or possible dual citizenship (amongst other things). Pursued initially by investigative journalistsa and involving an increasing number of members of Parliament, this became a protracted political event, referred to by some as a constitutional crisis or the citizenship crisis.
The issue arose because of section 44(i) of the Australian Constitution, which prohibits members of either house of the federal Parliament from having allegiance to a foreign power, primarily citizenship of that country. On that basis, the High Court of Australia had previously held that someone who holds dual citizenship is ineligible for election to either house unless they have taken "reasonable steps" to renounce the foreign citizenship before nomination.
Seven cases were referredb to the High Court each by the house of parliament in which the member whose eligibility was in question sat. Six were senators and one was a member of the House of Representatives. Three were also members of the Ministry. Senators Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters, the co-deputy leaders of the Australian Greens, voluntarily resigned their seats. The parliament referred their cases to the High Court in early August, together with those of Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and Senator Matt Canavan, both of whom were National Party ministers in the Turnbull Government at the time, as well as Senator Malcolm Roberts of One Nation. The cases of Nationals Deputy Leader and frontbencher Senator Fiona Nash, and leader of his eponymous minor party Senator Nick Xenophon, were referred to the High Court by the Senate on 4 September. While Canavan had resigned from Cabinet, Joyce and Nash remained in Cabinet with the support of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. The seven politicians were referred to collectively in the media as the "Citizenship Seven".
The Court handed down its decision on 27 October 2017, ruling unanimously that Joyce, Ludlam, Nash, Roberts and Waters had been ineligible to be elected, while Canavan and Xenophon had been eligible. The immediate outcome was that the government risked losing its one-seat majority in the House of Representatives if it did not win the required by-election and a number of Senate seats were temporarily vacant (affecting the party balance while they were). After countbacks, the High Court has approved successors from the same parties to Senators Ludlam, Waters and Roberts, but not yet to Senator Nash.
Shortly after the decision was handed down, the President of the Senate, Liberal Stephen Parry, recognised his dual citizenship and resigned from the Senate. Liberal MP John Alexander also resigned on 11 November 2017 after finding evidence that he retained British citizenship, costing the Coalition Government its majority in the lower house. On 14 November 2017, Jacqui Lambie announced that she would resign from the Senate after finding she had inherited British citizenship through her father. The positions of several other members of both houses are also in doubt and further referrals to the High Court are anticipated, particularly to clarify what are "reasonable steps" to renounce a foreign citizenship.
While the crisis has primarily involved dual citizenship, other parts of section 44 are also involved. The High Court is still considering whether Nash's presumptive successor, Hollie Hughes, is ineligible to be elected on account of her holding an office of profit under the Crown contrary to section 44(iv). A further court challenge against National MP David Gillespie, alleging a breach of the "pecuniary interest" requirement in section 44(v), has been brought under the Common Informers (Parliamentary Disqualifications) Act 1975 (Cth).
Illustration from The Pickering Post