Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
KIERAN GILBERT: Good morning and welcome to the program. The Prime Minister has moved to deal with the citizenship saga once and for all. But will the Government’s mechanism do the trick or will it simply just drift on? With me now the Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann joins me from Perth. Minister, thanks very much for your time. Under the Prime Minister’s approach and that agreed to by the Cabinet yesterday what guarantees are there that those that might breach the Constitution or may not be completely upfront, what guarantees there that they might face some sort of penalty?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Everybody is required under this proposal to provide the same assurance formally to the Parliament that all of us have had to provide to the Electoral Commission when we nominated to stand for Parliament. Misleading Parliament, if that is what you suggest people might do, is a very serious matter. If ever it was revealed that any of the 226 Members and Senators knowingly misled the Parliament there would be very serious consequences.
KIERAN GILBERT: Is there any guarantee here that we would not see a similar scenario to that which saw Barnaby Joyce have to go a by-election, that brought down Stephen Parry for example?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to speculate as to what the outcome of the process is going to be. Under this process, every individual Member of Parliament, consistent with our obligations under the Constitution, will have to provide assurance to the Parliament that they comply with section 44 of the Constitution in relation to citizenship, that they only hold Australian citizenship and provide some further information. That will be open to scrutiny by the media, our political opponents and others. At the end of it, people we believe, should be able to have confidence that the Parliament is made up of people who are entitled and eligible to be representatives in the Parliament.
KIERAN GILBERT: So once the documents are tabled, then the mechanism for scrutiny would be your political opponents, journalists, is that the way that this is managed and then potentially referral to the High Court? So the documents are tabled, scrutinised by all and sundry and then a judgement made as to whether or not people seek a referral?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I assume that all of my colleagues and every Member and Senator in the Parliament will engage in this process truthfully. That is certainly my assumption. I am assuming that everyone will, as part of this process, again satisfy themselves of their own circumstances and then provide accurate information to the Parliament. In the end, you asked me about the scenario where somebody did not pursue this truthfully. If ever it is found out that they knowingly misled the Parliament, that would be a contempt of the Parliament. There would be consequences from that.
KIERAN GILBERT: Yeah, so within this process though, there is still some level of doubt isn’t there? As much as you try and resolve it, the uncertainty at least for a few months likely to continue.
MATHIAS CORMANN: There is only one body in Australia that can conclusively settle any contested questions in relation to the citizenship status of any Member of Parliament. That is the High Court. That is a conversation you and I had last Friday. That is still the position. That is a Constitutional reality.
KIERAN GILBERT: Does it frustrate you that you have had to go to these measures because of the drip feed of controversies around MPs?
MATHIAS CORMANN: All of us as individual Members of Parliament have an obligation to comply with the Constitution. All of us as individual Members of Parliament if we become aware of information that we may not, or no longer comply with the Constitution, we are under an obligation to take the appropriate steps to deal with that. I am on the record as saying I wish that former Senator Parry in particular, I wish that he had taken action earlier. I certainly think that that is a fair proposition that is put by people. But we are where we are. The Prime Minister has set out a clear process to seek to resolve this issue moving forward. Then there should be this process through the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, which will look at the future and how the arrangements can be made better into the future.
KIERAN GILBERT: Is there any chance that this could happen without a referendum, that the treatment of Section 44 (i) of the Constitution would see some other way to legislate around that given what has been, certainly at least one ridiculous scenario, if not more than that around the Frydenberg matter with his mother arriving here stateless and that being questioned. But in relation to now you have got the Davis Cup star in John Alexander also being questioned. Is it time to clear this up and change to the law?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to pre-empt the outcomes of a process that is yet to start through the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. Let us be very clear, that is to deal with how this can be better managed in the future. As far as the current circumstance is concerned, all of us were elected under the current Constitutional and legal arrangements. All of us have an obligation to comply with the Constitution and the laws as they stand. The process that the Prime Minister set out yesterday will be able to provide an assurance to the Parliament and through the Parliament to the Australian people that all of us who are represented in the Parliament are eligible and entitled to be there.
KIERAN GILBERT: Is a referendum something that you will countenance at some point?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I think that that is getting way ahead of ourselves. I believe that fundamentally the Australian people support the proposition that a Member of the Australian Parliament should have allegiance only to Australia. I would be very dubious that there would be the necessary support, a majority of people in a majority of states to make a change to this particular arrangement.
KIERAN GILBERT: On John Alexander’s case, it is quite a complicated one, goes back decades. He says that it is his understanding that his father had renounced his British citizenship and taken out Australian citizenship. Australian citizenship only come into force, is my advice in 1948 under Ben Chifley, so it would have had to happen pretty quickly before John Alexander was then born in the early 1950s.
MATHIAS CORMANN: I can only take my good friend and colleague John Alexander at his word. I believe what he says. John Alexander, myself, all of us as part of this process set out by the Prime Minister, will have to provide a formal assurance to the Parliament that to the best of our knowledge we are only Australian citizens. We will have to provide additional information in relation to, for example our parents and related matters. This process will take its course. At the end of it people will be able to assess the information that is in the public domain and make relevant judgments.
KIERAN GILBERT: Minister, appreciate your time, we will talk to you soon.