Pallbearers lead the casket out of the church after the State Funeral of Sir Ninian Stephen

Prime Minister Turnbull hardly covered himself in anything close to glory this week when he tried to hose down the dual citizenship debacle.

Not that he has exactly been showered with plaudits over any policy pronouncements lately.

His bluster about the “non-audit” sounded confected and a tad sad. I will concede, I was touched by his defence of Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg and the Holocaust reference to his mother fleeing Hungary as a persecuted, displaced, stateless person.

But he lost me when he started talking about witch-hunts not being “the Australian way” and how we shouldn’t badger MPs to show proof of sole citizenship.

“We must not be dragged into a lynch mob, witch-hunt, trial by innuendo and denunciation.” Yeah, right.

Didn’t I see the same PM, in full flight, in the House of Reps the other day, demanding Opposition Leader Bill Shorten produce written proof of his Australian citizenship? And to the government’s chagrin, he did.

The government could have handled all of this so much better because, even now, with the PM’s wimpish “self-declare” formula there will be, as Barry Humphries would say, tears before bedtime.

Three times, in recent months, the crossbench, led by the Greens and yours truly, tried to get this constitutional knot referred to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs committee. They (we, I’m a member) would then install an independent auditor. Could have been done and dusted quickly and cheaply. Most of the crossbench voted for it. The Libs, Nats and Labor voted against it.

My anger and frustration about the government’s dithering (and I suspect, deceit) was reflected in a series of tweets I sent out on this issue over the weekend.

To paraphrase them, I said: why didn’t Stephen Parry, John Alexander and Alex Hawke put their hands up four months ago? This is a disgrace. Turnbull, O’Dwyer, Morrison, don’t get it. After Senate President Parry’s deception, the voters don’t trust pollies to tell the truth. Neither do I.

And the chutzpah of The Hanson attacking Turnbull over section 44 citizenship flaws; didn’t she “hand on heart” defend the illegitimate “Senator” Malcolm Roberts? By this week, even Pauline was being asked about possible dual citizenship from that time in 2010 when she denounced Australia and said she was getting a British passport and going to live in self-imposed exile.

I had a long talk with Greens leader Richard Di Natale this week. When the Senate resumes next week, I will support him, again, in a push to get this issue to a Senate committee to appoint an independent auditor. As I said, it wouldn’t be expensive and would kill this issue, once and for all.

In the meantime, the punters think politicians are liars and don’t believe self-reporting is viable. They don’t trust us.

***

If it weren’t so serious, and such a serious threat to the Turnbull government’s tenure, you’d have to consider the Monty Python aspects of all this.

John Alexander, now under threat in John Howard’s old seat of Bennelong, gets the Greek justice of the peace in his local chicken shop to witness some papers. The chicken burger king says they were about citizenship. The former tennis king’s staff say now it was “about finance for a car”.

And what happened to all that smug talk about Labor’s sophisticated checks and balances?

Two of their reps in “the other place” — Justine Keay and Susan Lamb — could be up Barnaby’s creek without paddles if it turns out their renunciations of British citizenship, through their fathers, weren’t processed by June 7, 2016, the date nominations closed. Under the strict interpretation the High Court used to banish five of the munificent seven, just setting renunciation in train might not be enough to avoid a by-election,

***

In talks to Year 11 and 12 students about the media, I always tell them to “keep the fire in your belly” and often finish by describing my past life as “having a seat on the aisle of history”.

I felt a bit like that yesterday, in my new job. Not a seat on the aisle but one in the pew behind.

At the state funeral for former governor-general and High Court judge Sir Ninian Stephen, I was sitting just behind former governors-general Sir William Deane, Quentin Bryce and Peter Hollingworth. Nearby were former prime minister John Howard and the current governor-general Peter Cosgrove.

Former High Court judge Michael Kirby and former Hawke minister Gareth Evans delivered clever, entertaining eulogies.

Dunno about you, but at most funerals, after a touching tribute, I often lead the applause.

In Melbourne’s soaring St.Paul’s cathedral, there was just an awkward silence as the speakers resumed their seats.

***

South Australian Senator Don Farrell was listed on the rundown to represent Opposition Leader Bill Shorten. But Bill turned up at the last minute to sit near his mum-in-law Quentin. Don was relegated to sit next to me.

As Turnbull got up to deliver a reading from the Song of Solomon, Farrell whispered: “Song of Solomon, he’ll need the wisdom of Solomon to get out of the dual citizenship mess.” He was right.

Peter Fray

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