ABC News Breakfast

Subject: Citizenship







SUBJECT/S: Citizenship


MICHAEL ROWLAND, CO-HOST: We’re joined in the studio now by Shadow Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus. Mr Dreyfus good morning to you.


MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Morning, thank you for having me.


ROWLAND: Couple of changed stories, as we’re reporting, in the High Court yesterday. Firstly let’s go to the Matt Canavan situation, the now former Nationals Senator. He now says he’s been an Italian citizen since the age of two. How do you think the High Court justices will reflect on that?


DREYFUS: Well the question they’re going to have to look at is whether that citizenship – which frankly he ought to have known about, but at least he’s no longer blaming his mother – he’s going to have to explain to the High Court why it is he’s not in breach of the constitution. And that’s the same question that each of the seven members of Parliament are going to have to face. On the law as it stands, on current interpretations by the High Court, he is ineligible. Same for Barnaby Joyce, same for Fiona Nash.


ROWLAND: Do you think the High Court justices will take a black letter look at this when it comes to this particular section of the constitution?


DREYFUS: There’s an irony here. We’ve got a conservative government, many of whose ministers have railed against what they’ve called judicial activism for years – they’re relying on a pretty activist approach, where the High Court, for them to be eligible, will have to actually change the current interpretation. On the current interpretation, all of these members were citizens of another country and they didn’t take reasonable steps to get rid of that citizenship. That makes them ineligible.


ROWLAND: But can’t they say, and we can bring Barnaby Joyce into the conversation here, that there was no way of knowing they were citizens by descent?


DREYFUS: Let’s see what Barnaby Joyce says on oath when he swears an affidavit, because that’s what the High Court is requiring of him. I find it not really credible. He must have known that his father was born in New Zealand and that puts him on notice. He should inquire. There seems to be some suggestion now that they are going to argue there is a difference depending on whether you got your citizenship because of where you were born, or got your citizenship because of who your parents are. Either way, I think Australians expect people running for Parliament to check these things to make sure they’re in compliance with the constitution.


ROWLAND: Talking about on oath, are you saying the Deputy Prime Minister is lying?


DREYFUS: I don’t know what his story is going to be when he gets to court but I do know, Michael, that he’s got a really big problem. He shouldn’t continue as a minister. Matt Canavan was stood aside by the Prime Minister and is no longer holding ministerial office. And ironically Barnaby Joyce took over his job, Minister for Resources. We’ve now got a situation where Mr Joyce is going to be making decisions of the minister. It might be mining approvals, it might be the water allocations. All of those decisions. Any decision he makes is going to be subject to challenge until the High Court rules on his eligibility. And that’s not a situation any responsible government should entertain. Same for Fiona Nash. Both of them should stand aside as ministers.


ROWLAND: Let’s look at One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts now – finally telling the High Court through his lawyer that yes indeed he did renounce his British citizenship, but not until after the Federal Election. How will that be reflected on in the High Court?


DREYFUS: Well Malcolm Roberts has had about four stories now. But on that story, on the current interpretation of section 44 under the constitution, he is ineligible. If he was a citizen and is now saying he was, and he didn’t take reasonable steps before the election, he’s out and that’s what I would expect would be the outcome on his current story. But again let’s see what he swears on oath when he files an affidavit in the court.


ROWLAND: Can you, sitting here this morning, swear on your heart that there are no Labor MPs about to be caught up in this?


DREYFUS: We are absolutely confident. And that’s as it should be. Labor has a very, very rigorous system of a long questionnaire, oral interviews, then checking by lawyers of the status of our MPs before they are allowed to nominate for office. And we’ve had that for about 20 years – six or so elections that we’ve been doing this. I’ve been shocked to see that apparently other parties don’t check in the same way. And I think it’s a basic obligation. It’s bordering on incompetence for anyone to run for office and not check the five qualifications that are set out in the constitution, they’ve been there since 1901, to make sure you can run.


ROWLAND: OK Bill Shorten’s done all of that, he’s renounced his British citizenship before entering Parliament. But still he won’t release the paperwork. What’s the problem with releasing the paperwork?


DREYFUS: Happily, the government’s now dropped off this. Matthias Cormann, Christopher Pyne, accept that Bill Shorten is eligible for office because he renounced his British citizenship just like a range of other MPs sitting in the Parliament now who have renounced their citizenship.


ROWLAND: But to put some voters’ minds at ease? Shouldn’t you release the paperwork? In the interests of political transparency?


DREYFUS: I think voters’ minds are at ease about that just as they’re at ease about say, Tony Abbott who equally was a British citizen and renounced his British citizenship. What we’ve got is seven members of Parliament have now been referred to the High Court. That’s the right and proper thing for them to have done. The government’s done the right thing in referring people who in effect have outed themselves. Any other member of Parliament, who is in that situation, should do the same thing.


ROWLAND: Before we let you go, Bill Shorten is about to speak if indeed he hasn’t started speaking already to a small business conference in Melbourne. The small business community is very angry about Labor’s plan to crack down on family trusts. Mr Shorten told me on this program not too long ago that 200,000 small businesses with trusts would be affected by that. Is there any thought about changing that policy? Because small business owners are a very important part of the electorate.


DREYFUS: Well I think the government wants the small business community to be angry but we’ve got 2 to 3 million small businesses in Australia and what the trust measure we propose will be to crack down on income splitting. If you are a Pay As You Go taxpayer, if you are anyone who doesn’t have a trust that allows you to split income, you can’t do that. And this is a basic fairness measure Michael that we think..


ROWLAND: But small business owners are affected by this, what do you say to them?


DREYFUS: Any change to the tax system affects somebody. That’s why we make changes to the tax system.


ROWLAND: Are you happy to wear the anger of the small business sector?


DREYFUS: Well let’s see whether there is in fact the anger that the Prime Minister has been trying to stir up or whether in fact people think that fairness is the appropriate way for us to model our tax system.


ROWLAND: OK Mark Dreyfus thanks very much for joining us this morning.


DREYFUS: Thanks Michael.