s44 debacle certain to dominate Australian politics during first half of 2018

s44 debacle certain to dominate Australian politics during first half of 2018

All those hoping for some respite from the uncertainty, name calling and acrimony that have been features of the section 44 citizenship debacle will take no joy from the High Court's non-decision on the fates of Labor MP David Feeney and Labor senator Katy Gallagher on Friday.
The court, sitting in Brisbane as the Court of Disputed Returns, was expected to make a decision on whether or not to probe more deeply into whether the pair were eligible to sit in the House of Representatives and the Senate respectively.
They have adjourned the matter to a date to be set, probably in March.
Ms Gallagher, who was demonstrably entitled to dual citizenship when she accepted appointment to the Senate to replace Kate Lundy in 2015, asked the upper house to refer her citizenship status to the High Court last December.
Documents supplied to the Senate had shown that, "at the date of her nomination for the 2016 election (Senator Gallagher was), a British citizen by descent".
Her defence is that she had taken all "reasonable steps within her power to renounce her UK citizenship" before nominating.
While the ALP and some pundits, including ANU constitutional law professor, Kim Rubenstein, maintain she has a strong case and is unlikely to be forced to step down this may well be wishful thinking.
Other legal experts, including the Prime Minister, who was known to be a handy lawyer in his youth, have fared badly when it comes to predicting which way the High Court will jump on these issues.
Mr Feeney's case is, if anything, more fraught with challenges given his initial reluctance to concede there was a problem, his ongoing failure to produce the documents it was claimed would clear him on the issue and his refusal to follow the lead of Liberal MP John Alexander who resigned under similar circumstances.
Mr Alexander has since returned to the House of Representatives, having comfortably beaten off a high-profile, and definitely over-egged challenge from former NSW Labor premier Kristina Keneally late last year.
If Mr Feeney is forced to a byelection he may face a much tougher challenge from the Greens.
Section 44 is shaping up to be as big a pain in the neck for Bill Shorten, who once famously argued that the ALP's vetting processes had been beyond reproach, in 2018 as it was for Malcolm Turnbull and The Nationals in 2017.
The ill-starred Opposition Leader's outburst of indignation over the way pressure has been put on a number of his MPs and senators to back up their section 44 claims with documents is hard to treat seriously.
For most of last year, while this issue was causing massive damage and inconvenience to his political opponents, Mr Shorten was happy to play the game for all it was worth.
Now that the shoe is well and truly on the other foot all things are no longer fair in love, war and politics apparently.
The ALP may just have to come to terms with the fact that what goes around comes around.

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