In my first editorial on my eponymous Hinch Live program on Sky News on Sunday nights, I invoked the wrath of Gerard and his dog by questioning Tony Abbott’s citizenship.
And thereby his constitutional right under section 44 to even represent the good folk of Warringah, let alone be prime minister of this country. Had he renounced his British citizenship before first being elected in 1994?
The then-PM’s office didn’t help by sealing the records so the Aussie version of the “birther movement” couldn’t know if they were barking up the wrong family tree or not.
It all came up again last week when the Bob Day Senate shemozzle played out in the High Court.
With the court ruling that Day, South Australia’s No. 1 on the Family First Senate ticket, was ineligible, the spotlight then shone on their No. 2 candidate, Kenyan-born lawyer Lucy Gichuhi.
Gichuhi confirmed she had adopted Australian citizenship (but wouldn’t say when) at an uncomfortable, stilted, media conference but then clammed up when asked if she had renounced her Kenyan passport.
In a later ABC radio interview, she said: “I reserve the right to (not) discuss that topic any further.”
The Kenyan High Commission may have thrown her a life jacket by explaining that when Kenya’s new constitution was promulgated in 2010, any person who took up the citizenship of another country ceased to be a Kenyan unless they reapplied for dual citizenship. And Lucy Gichuhi had not.
That may not be the only obstacle for her to take Bob Day’s seat. Family First stood only two candidates in the July 2, 2016 election. Labor will argue, with merit, that, with only one candidate left in the race, FF can no longer be regarded as a group to attract above-the-line votes.
Even if Gichuhi gets Day’s below-the-line votes that would not be enough to beat another would-be Labor Senator. Stay tuned.
At the risk of upsetting Gerard (and his dog) again it is worth going back to the eligibility of Tony Abbott. Why won’t he release proof of his British citizenship renunciation?
A couple of years ago, about 40,000 people signed a petition demanding he do just that.
As I said on Sky back then: “I run a real risk of being labelled a nutter here.” I was well aware of the birther movement in the United States with people, especially Donald Trump, claiming for years that Barack Obama’s presidency was illegal. They claimed he was really born in Kenya. Not Hawaii. And if you’re not born in the United States, you can’t be president.
Some cranks still believe the Kenya conspiracy even though the White House produced Obama’s Hawaiian birth certificate.
It’s different here. You can be born overseas but must be an Australian citizen to hold office and you can’t hold two passports. No dual-citizenship. You must renounce the country of your birth. Section 44 of the Constitution says you must not hold the citizenship of any “foreign power”.
Anthony John Abbott was born in England in 1957. The family emigrated to Australia in 1960. He became an Australian citizen in 1981 after winning a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford as a Briton.
So when did he renounce his British citizenship? We don’t know.
The official line from the PM’s office was: “The Prime Minister is an Australian citizen and does not hold citizenship of any other country.”
Normally, you can check these things with the National Archives of Australia, which keep all citizenship applications on public file. But, for some reason, the archives made Abbott’s 1981 application confidential.
This all may sound far-fetched, but remember: Jackie Kelly had to stand again at a byelection after she was elected holding Australian and New Zealand passports.
And some of you will remember Robert Wood. He was elected to the Senate for the Nuclear Disarmament Party in 1987, and was thrown out in 1988 when it was discovered he was born in England and had not held an Australian passport prior to being elected.
As I said in the Senate last year, I believe all members of federal Parliament should provide proof of eligibility to the Speaker of the House or to the Senate President.
Better still: you should provide proof to the AEC the day you nominate.
How to get snagged by a snag.
During last year’s marathon election campaign, we covered 11,250 kms in the Justice Bus through Victoria and New South Wales. That meant eating a lot of snags at the CFA sausage sizzles — and too many magical meat pies from places like the Beechworth Bakery.
Even as an aspiring senator, I knew you don’t turn down a proffered sausage smeared with tomato sauce on a slice of very ordinary bread. You don’t do it. You’ll get crucified by the media almost as much as they’ll attack you for eating it wrongly. Too daintily. Too phallicly.
Remember how the stand-up comics went after Donald Trump during a campaign stop in Brooklyn when he was filmed eating a slice of pizza with a knife and fork.
(Editor please note: That’s one thing I have in common with The Donald).
And so Malcolm Turnbull got snagged when visiting flood-stricken Lismore. He turned down a sausage, ceremonially proffered by a CWA volunteer. Captured on the TV news, the PM delicately placed the sausage and paper plate back on the trestle table and said: “That’s lovely. That’s very kind of you, but I think I am running around a bit much to be eating that.”
Reckon it was a coincidence that one Lycra-clad MAMIL, Tony Abbott, on his Pollie Pedal later tweeted?
“Thank you Tumut Lions Club for manning the BBQ. Loved the snags and steak sandwiches!”
Yeah, a real man. Not like the Wentworth toff.