Labor MP Justine Keay concedes High Court referral is ‘probably the only step’
A Labor politician embroiled in the national citizenship crisis has released documents in an effort to clear her name, but concedes being referred to the High Court may be “the only step” left to resolve the uncertainty.
There have been doubts about the eligibility of Justine Keay, the Labor MP for the Tasmanian seat of Braddon, for several weeks but Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull upped the ante on Wednesday by suggesting she may have to resign.
Ms Keay, who was a British citizen on the night of the election, is relying on the steps she took to renounce her dual citizenship to make her eligible for Parliament.
Labor MP Justine Keay during Question Time at Parliament House in Canberra. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
In February 2016, the Labor Party’s legal division notified Ms Keay of the required steps to be eligible as a candidate – but it was not until the election was called in May she began the renunciation process.
The emotional MP teared-up when explaining why it took three months to renounce her British connection.
“I delayed it – it’s one of those things with the citizenship I knew I could never get it back,” she said.
“If I don’t get elected I can’t get my citizenship back and for me, it was a very personal thing.
“I try not to be upset about it but – it was that last tangible connection with my dad.”
She acknowledged the renunciation could have been done earlier, and the delay had created the cloud hanging over her head.
The date of Ms Keay’s renunciation took effect from July 11 – more than a week after the July 2 federal election, and well past the June 9 deadline by which candidates must declare to electoral authorities they are not dual citizens.
Despite taking steps to renounce her citizenship prior to the election, Ms Keay’s political opponents have seized on the confirmation she was British on election night.
“What’s frustrating is I have done everything possible and I have taken the constitutional requirements that I have very very seriously – you’ve got people like Barnaby Joyce and like Stephen Parry, possible Jacqui Lambie who have not even asked the question,” she said.
After the resignation of Mr Parry last week Ms Keay again sought legal advice about her own situation.
On Wednesday, Ray Finkelstein QC and Susan Gory advised she was eligible to sit as a member of the House of Representatives.
Ms Keay said there was no reason for her case to be tested in the High Court – but acknowledged it may be the only way to determine her fate.
“I would be incredibly confident of getting through that process,” she said.
“Part of me sort of thinks – that probably is the only step to really put an end to all this and completely clarify it.”
She was cautious about using the nation’s highest court as a testing ground and instead hoped universal disclosure in Parliament would finalise the fiasco.
“For me to go to the High Court and say, can you just test my case, but I have no grounds for you do so, is pretty stupid,” she said.
“Should the government decide to act in a partisan way and do that, that’s for them to determine.
“If they want to try to take out me on the way through their crisis – so be it, I’ll deal with that.”
Mr Turnbull on Thursday threatened to break with longstanding precedent and use the government’s slim majority to refer any Labor MPs under a citizenship cloud to the High Court.
The Coalition has until now staunchly insisted that any High Court referrals must be made by an MP’s own party, as part of a bid to prevent an outbreak of partisan referrals.
The government believes three Labor MPs – Ms Keay, Susan Lamb and Josh Wilson – have questions to answer about their citizenship status at the time of the 2016 election.
Each considered at threat because they had not received confirmation of their renunciation until after they nominated as candidates in June last year.
Lower house crossbencher Rebekha Sharkie is also believed to be in a similar situation.
– The Examiner